journalism

The Capability controversy

Three hundred years after the gardener’s birth, debates still rage over whether his ruthless landscaping led to something beautifully harmonious or just a bit dull

 

The Capability Brown-landscaped garden at Prior Park, near Bath, and the first know image of a railway line, from a drawing by Anthony Walker, 1750The Capability Brown-landscaped garden at Prior Park, near Bath, and the first know image of a railway line, from a drawing by Anthony Walker, 1750

 

In a piece of light verse from the 1770s ‘Dame Nature’ — out strolling ‘one bright day’ — bumps into the great landscape designer, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Immediately the goddess lays into him for plagiarism. How, she wants to know, does he have the impudence to show his face? All the items he claims to have created — ‘the lawn, wood and water’ — were made in fact by her. Continue reading “The Capability controversy”

‘Everything needs to be centred on humanity’: Interview with Jannis Kounellis

Jannis Kounellis photographed at the Monnaie de Paris, March 2016.

Jannis Kounellis photographed at the Monnaie de Paris, March 2016. Courtesy Monnaie de Paris; photo: Manolis Baboussis; © Jannis Kounellis

 

A few months ago, the Greek artist Jannis Kounellis (b. 1936) was in Sicily, talking to the students of the Accademia di Belle Arti in Palermo. It was, he recalls, just after a great many drowned bodies of refugees had been found floating in the sea. ‘I found myself thinking about Piet Mondrian. I imagined him there in Sicily today, sitting in a studio confronted by this terrifying spectacle. Under those circumstances, Mondrian wouldn’t have been able just to paint a vertical line and a horizontal one – that wouldn’t have been enough.’ Continue reading “‘Everything needs to be centred on humanity’: Interview with Jannis Kounellis”

David Hockney: “Photography has been making the world a bit too dull”

David Hockney: "Photography has been making the world a bit too dull"

The following is an edited transcription of the conversation I had with David Hockney while recording the Radio 4 Documentary “Back in LA”

Martin Gayford There are 82 portraits (and one still life) in your new exhibition at the Royal Academy [which runs from 2 July to 2 October]. You get the sense that it’s one work, as it’s a consistent set-up with most of the sitters on the same chair. It’s one of the longest cycles of portraits that I can think of in the history of art. Continue reading “David Hockney: “Photography has been making the world a bit too dull””

The over-exposure of Georgia O’Keeffe

‘New York Street with Moon’, 1925, by Georgia O’Keeffe

‘New York Street with Moon’, 1925, by Georgia O’Keeffe

 

In 1927, Georgia O’Keeffe announced that she would like her next exhibition to be ‘so magnificently vulgar that all the people who have liked what I have been doing would stop speaking to me’. Perhaps, then, she would approve of the massive retrospective of her work at Tate Modern. This show is, as is frequently the case in the largest suites of galleries on Bankside, considerably too big for its subject. The scale, however, is a matter of institutional overkill. Its vulgarity, magnificent or otherwise, is supplied by O’Keeffe (1887–1986) herself — in a pared-down, high-modernist way. Continue reading “The over-exposure of Georgia O’Keeffe”

Bologna with Gilbert & George

Bologna’s core: grand in the renaissance manner

Bologna’s core: grand in the renaissance manner

 

Sooner or later, no matter where you are travelling on Italian railways, you are likely to pass through Bologna Centrale. The city is the main junction between the north and south of the country, close to the route through the mountains. It always has been. The teenage Michelangelo stopped off while journeying between Venice and Florence, and — after a contretemps at the customs office, since Bologna was then a city state — carved some small sculptures for the Basilica of San Domenico. Continue reading “Bologna with Gilbert & George”

It’s time to split the Tate again

‘Babel’, 2001, by Cildo Meireles

‘Babel’, 2001, by Cildo Meireles

 

In 1992 I wrote a column that was published under the headline ‘It’s Time to Split the Tate’. To my absolute astonishment, shortly afterwards it was announced that this would actually happen (no doubt a coincidence rather than a response to my words). Hitherto, though it is hard now to recall those times, there had been just a single Tate gallery in London — the one on Millbank, containing a cheerful jumble of British painting from the Tudor era onwards mixed with what was then described as modern ‘foreign’ art. Continue reading “It’s time to split the Tate again”

My pilgrimage to see the world’s greatest male nudes

One of the two bronze statues of Greek warriors found in the sea off Riace, on display for the first time at the presidential palace in Rome, 1981

Poetic or pretentious? ‘Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust’ at the Royal Academy

Forget Vienna – Britain now has its own chamber of curiosities at the British Museum

Detail of a maiolica vase, c.1565–1571, a star piece for both Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill and later for Baron Ferdinand at Waddesdon Manor