Thursday, 9 April 2009

Tuesday, 10.30am - Nora phones

'Heather hi, bla bla bla, yada yada yada, I'm visiting London now with my niece, Zoë and we'd thought we'd visit the Whitechapel. I want to see Guernica. Have you seen it?'

'No I haven't.' (I thought Guernica was in Madrid).

'So when shall we meet? How will you get there? So, fine we'll meet at 2.30pm then. Bye.'

So at 3.15pm I arrived breathless at the doorway to Whitechapel Gallery that is actually next to Aldgate East tube station, not Whitechapel as you might expect. In the interests of economy I had decided that I'd walk to the gallery from home not realising that it would take the best part of an hour to get there but I'm sure the walk did me no end of good.

The Whitechapel Gallery has just reopened its doors after a major refurb. When I walked through the main entrance it seemed to me oddly like it had before its refurb but freshly painted in nice white paint. The great thing was it was completely free which was fantastic because I had a vague recollection that I had had to pay to see an exhibition of Lucian Freud's work there. But hey, perhaps I was wrong and maybe that had been free too. I also expected my visit to be oh so pretentious and arty and it was nothing of the sort. The work was very accessible and a lot of it was interesting so I reckon I was feeling very prejudiced towards the place before I even got there and it did me no harm to have my preconceived ideas turned on their head.

The gallery Nora whisked me into was the one I stayed in for longest. The painting of Guernica was painted by Pablo Picasso as his response to the destruction of the Basque town Gernika by the Nazis and Fascists in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. The version on display here is a life-size tapestry of the painting which has been on display at the United Nations Headquarters in New York since 1985. It is a powerful image and takes up most of the space of the far wall in the gallery. This tapestry forms the centrepiece of an art installation which is made up of a few separate pieces which all have something powerful to say about the horrors of war. These works have been selected by Goshka Macuga who is a London-based Polish artist and the exhibition is called The Bloomberg Commission. While I found Guernica very interesting there was a film playing on a continuous loop which was a documentary about life and death in Iraq with copious numbers of dead bodies and injured children which was eye opening and unlike anything you'd see on the evening tv news.

Once I'd felt I'd had enough of death and destruction and said goodbye to my friends I had a quick visit around the rest of the place. What I hadn't appreciated was that the old public library next door had been absorbed into the gallery thereby increasing the floor space enormously. I will look forward to my next visit when I can pay closer attention to the spaces upstairs with fresh eyes.


Linden said...

It's interesting, isn't it, how little of the reality of war actually gets on to our TV screens now, I'm sure it wasn't always so? (Or maybe that feeling's a function of my age!)

I'd heard of the tapestry but had no idea it had come to this country! I remember when I read about it thinking what an amazing challenge it must have been to make a tapestry out of such a complex painting.

Anonymous said...

Weird, I was just watching an interview on the Guardian by Cathy De Monchaux about her latest work at the Whitechapel.

From this and other pictures on the Guardian, I think I would like her work. Its looks very monumental but looking at the scale in the video it looks very small and tight, enclosed in own little world. They reminded me of the plaster cast of Parthenon that were scattered all around Camberwell when I was a student there and also of the paintings of Paolo Uccello although she doesn't mention them as influences.

I am so jealous at the moment, this is what I imagine I would be doing now, 10 yrs ago when I was harassed mother of 3. The thing that kept me going was the thought once they were older, I could spell my free time browsing the art galleries of Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow plus all the other wonderful galleries in the Highlands with the occaissional visit to the big Smoke. Instead I stuck in no where land for art where cowboys and bluebonnets run riot!pfffft