Last night we went to the opening of the London Calling show at the Getty. I hated the title, since the Clash song – which the DJ played as we ate fish and chips and drank our wine – is about rioting and the ice age (Thatcherism), not the particular bourgeois fantasies enacted in the paintings in the show. Not that I am criticizing those fantasies, far from it – but there was no punk sensibility there.
The works by Frank Auerbach, Leon Kosoff, Lucien Freud, R.B. Kitaj, and Michael Andrews – composed, according to the curator, Julian Brooks (I think – I couldn’t hear the name of the gent who was supposed to lead the invitees through the justification for the exhibition), a school of London that showed that New York critics who, in the fifties, had proclaimed the death of figuration were wrong. It was a pretty plain aesthetic argument, and I think a false one. Abstraction not only submerged figuration, it produced the conditions that would assure that its resurrection could only be as a damaged style. Indeed, for all Brooks’s burbling about Lucien Freud’s work showing the finest appreciation of the human figure since Rubins, what was evident was how under the influence of the bomb and the scrawl these painters generally were. Figuration as damage, as casualty: this was the response to abstraction I saw.
My favorite was the Auerbach room. These were truly physical pictures, documents not only of choses vues but the aggregation of material, the clogging, in the visual channel, the eye brought down from its angelic flight into the nervy impulse that organizes it as a thing on a stalk. I’d like to look at those pieces again. I suppose the most famous pieces are the canonical ones in the Bacon room, although myself, I prefered the bicycle pic – a reminder that Bacon was, after all, Irish. I thought of Flann O’brian’s The Third Policeman, that eccentric paen to the bicycle.
What else? L.A., as always, looks terrific from the terrace – the twilight coming in, the mist (or smog, or is it ash?) over the buildings.
Lovely night, really.