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Recently I was in a tiny town in New Zealand consisting of only one street. I was intrigued to see an art gallery nestling amongst the shops, and further along another shop front displaying Maori art, advertising lessons on how to make the traditional grass skirts from New Zealand flax. Thinking about this later I realized that in that small town you can see what art means to so many people. It gives us pleasure yet at the same time points to our cultural heritage and national identity. Our museums and national galleries are full of icons of our visual heritage as well as the latest developments in all forms of visual arts. They foster dialogue; they intrigue, scandalize and delight in equal measure. They can energize – as a striking example look at what Turner Contemporary has done for Margate, on England’s south coast, which had suffered from the modern Brit’s preference for foreign holidays – and finally their benefit is economic.
Cassone tries to foster all these attributes of art, and in this issue we have a wide variety of reviews of international exhibitions and events, books and catalogues to do just that.
Jenny Kingsley watched and was fascinated by Frederick Wiseman’s documentary about the National Gallery London. Of all our public galleries the exhibits within its walls probably best display all those inherent qualities of art that I have just noted. It’s a fascinating film, though a great contrast to Hollywood glitz, explored by Ian Jones in his review of Hollywood in the 30s, a title which takes us back to the Golden Age of American filmmaking.
Sue Ecclestone went to the exhibition on the work of the still-controversial painter John Singer Sargent, ‘Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends’ at the National Portrait Gallery. This was curated by Richard Ormond, a descendent of Sargent. Sue states, ‘London is privileged to host many great exhibitions, but this is the best I have seen in a long time.’ It closes on 25 May.
Frances Follin went to Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) to see the original drawings and recent models and video footage of impressive buildings created by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, whose best work was created on the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries. Frances says ‘There is plenty here to interest anyone who would like to know more about Mackintosh’s work’. This exhibition closes on 23 May.
Meanwhile some of our other contributors write on art around the world. Stephen Bury attended the ‘On Kawara – Silence’ exhibition at the Guggenheim New York. This was organized with the cooperation of the artist before his death last year, and is the first full representation of his output. It is on until 3 May. David Ecclestone reviews the catalogue of the exhibition, ‘Face Value in the Age of Abstraction’ recently shown at the Smithsonian Washington DC, and Patricia Andrew writes on the catalogue of ‘Pastures Green & Dark Satanic Mills: The British Passion for Landscape’. This volume accompanies an exhibition of 88 works from the collections of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum of Wales, and tours the USA until April 2016.
Meanwhile in Basel, Switzerland, there is a beautiful exhibition of the work of painter, Peter Doig, explored by Katie Campbell in our Feature Review. She calls Doig ‘one of the most compelling and provocative of contemporary artists’. This show will be moving on to Denmark later in the year.
In our other feature this month, Alexander Adams examines a book on the contents of the Hermitage Museum. Two weighty volumes, it has been republished to mark the 250th anniversary of the founding of the museum by Catherine the Great in St Petersburg, Russia.
Still looking east, Janet Tyson considers the title Art of The Middle East. This book she says‘is a solid contribution to potentially greater inter-cultural understanding’. And goodness knows we could do with some of that today.
Spring is traditionally a time for weddings – probably because of associations with fertility not to mention (in the UK, at least) that marrying then once enabled men to get the whole year’s ‘married man’s tax allowance’. Tax allowances were probably not a consideration for Constanzo Sforza and Camilla Marzano d'Aragona when they tied the knot in the 15th century. Find out how they celebrated in Susan Grange’s review of A Renaissance Wedding. More a piece of Performance art than a wedding as most of us would know one!
In our Art and Artists section we also have reviews of books on artists as diverse as Anselm Kiefer, Cy Twombly – both with international reputations – and Patrick George, a painter perhaps better known to many generations of admiring students than to the general public. And to make a change, a book by an artist, David Batchelor, whom I interviewed in our September 2014 issue. In The October Colouring-In Book, Batchelor takes up his artistic cudgels against the American art journal, October, which he argues privileges the written word over the image. Howard Hollands reviews the book in this issue.
Remember that you can leave your comments on any article or review in the Comments facility at the foot of each one. Most book reviews have a link to the UK Amazon site (sorry, readers elsewhere – but many of these books will be available on your local Amazon website) where you can often find out more about them. For those who prefer to buy from a bookshop – good for you! – we provide the publisher’s name and the ISBN number in most cases.
I hope that you enjoy this issue of Cassone. Don’t forget to revisit us during the month to catch our frequently updated Art News and catch any late reviews added to the website.
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Cassone – ca-soh-neh – the elaborately decorated chest that a wealthy Italian bride of the Renaissance period used to hold her trousseau: a box of beautiful things.