Thursday, 7 January 2016

Ten years of the 12 Star Gallery

Andrew Logan celebrated the anniversary on 8 December 2015  with mirror portraits, watercolours and, yes, an installation of 12 gold stars, cutting the ribbon above with Head of the European Commission in London Jacqueline Minor and Fenella Fielding, just turned 88 at the time, a name which will mean most to my generation who saw her in Carry on Screaming and other camporama. One person you won't see in any of these photos - mostly taken by Jamie Smith for the Commission, I'll mark mine with a 'DN' - is spouse J, founder and doyen of the 12 Star since its inception, as he prefers to be an unseen eminence grise. He's not even mentioned in the splendid book accompanying the anniversary, and when prised from the back of the crowd during the speechifying said not much more than Albert Herring's 'Thank you....very much' (though of course he could have drummed up a splendid speech had he wanted to put himself forward).

Even so, the gallery was his idea and has hosted exhibitions not just from all the European countries but also, occasionally, further afield, one on average every fortnight. Alternate Tuesdays are fixtures for art-lovers, diplomats and others: all the world is here. My personal favourite of recent months - not, I blush to say, that I've seen them all - was Thomas Ganter and his portraits, rich on every level. First exhibitor back in December 2005 was our Sophie Sarin with a collection of smashed plates, a splendid commentary on the olde worlde wooden cabinets of the original space - actually a former entrance hall - in Storey's Gate. My invitation is rather scrumpled now, but it still sits on a home shelf.

Et voilà la reine de Djenne on the right below with the equally creative Lucy Hannah and Spectator Books Editor Clare Asquith.

No evening is complete without a minor event, and Sophie provided one for me in the pub afterwards. But since she remembers nothing about it, I'll quickly draw a veil over that entertainment and pass on to megastar Maggi Hambling, also a friend now along with her gracious partner Tory Lawrence, who exhibited back in Storey's Gate days. Maggi marked the move to Europe House in Smith Square exactly five years before the present show opened. An exact mid-point, in other words, and a link with Andrew Logan for obvious reasons.

A series of her magnificent North Sea paintings was the theme in 2010.

Alas, by the time I arrived at Europe House on 8 December, Maggi and Tory had left, but this photo opportunity was too good a one for Jamie to miss.

Another friendship we owe to the 12 Star is that of top sculptor and painter Deborah van der Beek, who appeared on the scene with her Ned Kellys and Don Quixotes we now love so much. That launched the warmest of relationships with Deborah, her husband Andrew the serpent-player/chorus master and two of their three fine children (only Bertie, gourmet pizza king of Brighton, we haven't met). J's 50th birthday party in their Lacock house and garden was one of the happiest days of our lives. We spent a very floody but delightful Christmas with them and one of their two sons, Henry, a couple of years back, and we know Theodora (T D) quite well too. Here are mother and daughter with very authentic spirto gentil and fighter for good causes Thierry Alexandre (my pic, so not so sharp, and Deborah's eyes are shut, but it'll do).

Here also, social-diary style, are Thierry with David Souden and Ross Alley (also DN),

our dear old friend Edward Mendelson, retired architect and  very active artist, in front of Derek Jarman - two who were 'out' long before it became easy to be so -

Cressida Bell, on the left with art historian and editor Caroline Bugler

and Cressida's other half Paul Beecham, a work of vintage art in his own right, sharing a quiff with artist Duggie Fields.

The seasonal adornments in front of giant Maria (DN) will have gone down last (Twelfth) night

and soon to leave the building - in this case the National Gallery, possibly my favourite in the world in terms of contents - will be the astounding assemblage of portraits by Goya. Yes, it's every inch as miraculous as people say. How much you can tell both about the person and the artist's attitude to him or her, though some background knowledge is sometimes necessary. Not least is the man himself, represented here with uncomfortable frankness in Self-portrait with Dr Arrieta.

The inscription at the bottom explains all: 'Goya thankful to his friend Arrieta: for the skill and care with which he saved his life during his short and dangerous illness, endured at the end of 1819, at 73 years of age'. Goya lived on for another nine years, and one of the many wonders of this curation is that the last painting happens to be of Goya's grandson, healthy representation of faith in a future beyond his own life.

It's true to say that every portrait is of compelling, if not always supreme artistic, interest. I especially wanted to show the vital pair Bartolomé Sureda y Miserol, who coached Goya in the art of aquatint, and his wife Thérèse Louse, but they're not online. So let's settle for an aristo, the Marquis of Villefranca and Duke of Alba, holding a score of four songs composed by a 'client', Haydn, and leaning on his violin.

Goya's range of subjects and styles is extraordinary; less so in another exhibition I'd been looking forward to so much, a relatively small one devoted to Jean-Etienne Liotard at the Royal Academy. Yes, his portraits, especially in pastel, have a realistic quality at odds with so much in 18th century painting. But I tired of all those stiff nobs in well-executed silks - a feeling of satiety at the costume-parade I also got with the Moroni exhibition, where I'd have given all the noble portaits up for the final image of a humble tailor. Here, for me, the best was first - the self- and family portraits - the gap-toothed grinner of 1770 from Geneva,

the wife and eldest son in black and red chalk with watercolour washes

and the pastel of daughter Marianne holding a doll.

Among the rest, another child stands out: frail Princess Louisa Anne, short-lived daughter of Augusta and Frederick Lewis, Princess and Prince of Wales, in a dress too big for her. And then the still lives, and the virtuosity in trompe-l'oeil is somewhat. But the whole, perhaps, not quite enough.

I visited the Liotard with Edinburgh friend and artist Ruth while she was here for the 12 Star bash

and on that occasion we didn't have time for Ai Weiwei, but I'm glad I saw that show with J on the penultimate day. A price to pay: rooms absolutely jam-packed, young folk photographing everything so that one always felt in the way. But I'm glad Ai's conceptual art is so easily grasped, as the messages are essential ones about China today, using materials embedded in that country's tradition to make strong political points. Ai is a very great man, and an artist with a sometimes deadly sense of humour; that, and the good use of the huge white RA rooms filled with large-scale constructions, made this well worth seeing. The eight 'dead' trees which meet you as you go through the Royal Academy arch on Piccadilly are joined and bolted pieces of the real things brought down from the mountains of southern China and sold in the markets of Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province: perhaps the most impressive so far of the many successful courtyard installations.

Among monumental shows, though, it seemed to me that the Anselm Kiefer exhibition - my absolute favourite at the RA along with the 'Citizens and Kings' portraits - had deeper things to say, at least in purely artistic terms.


d said...

As for the contribution by J, if one does not mind who gets the credit it is amazing what one can achieve

David said...

Not quite sure why, Sir D. Are you suggestinig that being a backstage operator leaves one less open to envy and divisiveness?

Reminds me you weren't there. Dare I ask why not?

David Damant said...

I was quoting Truman ( Harry S)

I think that the underlying meaning is that if one maintains a low profile one does not run into the envy and divisiveness that you mention, but also and perhaps more usually bureaucratic obstruction etc etc - people raising difficulties, etc. Not that I am saying that these might have obstructed J

I went another day. I liked Callas but I did not steal it as it was rather large

David said...

Agreed - though of course it all had to be approved through EC channels, and everyone there seems to think it's marvellous. How could they not?

We liked Maria too but she was a little too expensive for our modest pockets.

David Damant said...

There is an interesting article on Callas in the latest Opera magazine ....pretty good ( I suppose that would be my view as it agrees with me.......)

Susan Scheid said...

In line with J's not wishing to take center stage, we had no idea, on our visit in his delightful company, that the 12 Star Gallery was his creation, and what a marvelous creation it is! Ever since, I've enjoyed being able to get a glimpse of what's on offer through the 12 Star's posts, and I treasure my copy of the commemorative booklet celebrating the first 10 years. A great deal of wonderful art has passed through the gallery, and I've no doubt but the same will pertain in the decade to come. With that and your other offerings (I would have loved to see that Goya exhibit, particularly), you have enough for several posts, as I suspect you know.

On other "fronts," I have in hand as of yesterday the Jan BBC Music Magazine and very much enjoyed your Stravinsky article. Your commentary on the 5 Stravinsky selections you discuss is terrific, bearing, as always, the hallmarks of your writing, notably your ability to draw interesting musical comparisons and to put each work in context. I particularly enjoyed the references to Tchaikovsky and of course the Shostakovich comment on Symphony of Psalms, a favorite for listening in our household. I also read with particular interest your review on the MusicAeterna Rite of Spring. I'd only recently come across this group's recent Rameau CD and have been curious about the group, but the conductor's "style," shall we say, had put me off further explorations. I was glad to see I'm not alone and also appreciated how deftly you were able to distinguish the performance from the man.

David said...

Thanks for your generosity of response as ever, Sue. A hard copy of what is a really treasurable and beautifully produced book awaits you on your next visit - or, if that's not to be soon, then I'll post it.

I trust your January BBCMM arrived some time ago, as February came through the post here today. I waver about Currentzis, but he got off to a good start conducting Weinberg's The Passenger at Bregenz - again, disconcerting to watch him on the excellent DVD, which has just resurfaced for wider distribution, but the results are razor sharp.

Currentzis is also the supposed star of an as yet unreleased Russian film made over years with people living out the lives of staff in a 1920s factory for months at a time. I went for an interview as possible consultant on the music used, but it was all so weird and I still don't quite trust in the reality of the project (I didn't feel comfortable with the director and sure enough, they didn't want to take me on straight away, but then it all receded). If the film never appears, a book could be written about the making of it (or not...)

David Damant said...

On Shostakovich, I was rather impressed by the TV programme on BBC2 on January 2nd ( still available) about the Leningrad Symphony and 1942. I thought ( as an amateur of course) that the way the development of the symphony was described was intelligent, and though the history of the Leningrad siege was pretty standard stuff it was sensibly handled, only a little melodrama

David said...

Might sound rather arrogant to say I know that heroic tale all too well and will pass, because I'm sure there were more penetrating interviews with survivors of the Siege of Leningrad: a dying breed. Staving off watching the six-part BBC War and Peace for more nervous reasons: blandness seems to be its abiding quality, say those who know the book.

David Damant said...

The trouble with films of great novels is that they miss the point. War and Peace is not a story, or rather the story is only the skeleton, on which is hung the analysis and the picture of the human predicament. Making it a story devalues it ( though no doubt there are a few exceptions). Reluctant as one always is to agree with F R Leavis, he was right about this

David said...

An oversimplification. Films can 'do' psychology, too, by virtue of the minutest reactions that can be seen on the face of a fine actor. That struck me watching the luminous Seoirse Ronan in Brooklyn. Anthony Hopkins' Pierre in the former, far from perfect but much more substantial BBC serialisation, conveyed much of the complex thought in the book. And Prokofiev's War and Peace, by concentrating on key scenes, captures so much of Tolstoy's complexity in human relationships.

Ultimately the book has to be the first port of call ('xxx has read all xxx words of Tolstoy's novel,' trumpeted the Standard yesterday, 'so that you don't have to'. Have to? Obnoxious). But having other great folks' response to it can be valid. I certainly wouldn't count Andrew Davies, who'd never read the book before undertaking the dramatisation, among them.

Deborah VdB said...

So agree about Ai Weiwei and Anselm Kiefer, in fact said much the same to a friend. And Liotard v Goya...they simply don’t compare. But Liotard is interesting. I saw that first, which was the right way round, and was amazed I’d never heard of him. He had a huge technical skill, and I was very interested in the way that he didn’t always flatter his subjects but gave them the unfashionable noses they really had, meaning he often achieved a photographic likeness. This was enhanced by using pastel rather than oil, a far more realistic effect. And I loved the ones of children – that fragilty, that delicate skin tone. But then Goya! They have souls, depth.

In the Goya, there was a lovely portrait of an old lady: the Dowager Marchioness of Villafranca. Being a gardener, I noticed she had a pink rose tucked into her dress. It was carefully painted, so I tried to identify it. Could be one of several, but one thing I felt was certain – the rounded, very grey leaves make it an Alba rose. Delighted to notice in my little booklet that the splendid old lady was mother of the Duke of Goya knew his roses too!

David said...

Honoured to have a hunch confirmed by a far more developed eye than mine, Deborah. And what a valuable discovery you've made about the rose 'alba'. Of course Goya was especially attached to the Duchess of Alba, so that little detail would have taken his fancy, like the Haydn score the Duke of Alba is holding - four songs, apparently, which could have been performed in the National Gallery. But we got a real treat last night - all six of Granados's Goyescas shared between two young pianists in one of the big domed rooms. I've written about it at rather too much length on The Arts Desk. I've been waiting to hear these pieces live for years.