25 January 2010

Nottingham Contemporary – David Hockney and Frances Stark

The widely advertised art gallery Notingham Contemporary opened its doors on 14 November 2009, but due to a mixture of circumstances - the enormous initial queues and the recent bad weather being just two of them - I was unable to visit the David Hockney and Frances Stark exhibitions until last Saturday, the day before they closed. Entry was free, and we were greatly impressed by what we saw. The above 88-page book, David Hockney 1960-1968: A Marriage of Styles, is linked to the Hockney exhibition, and although it was far from free, it serves as a good introduction to his early work for those unfamiliar with it. And the reproductions of the paintings and sketches are excellent. The strong argument I have with it concerns the text: red print on red paper and blue print on blue paper just do not blend well, and I find it very strange indeed that anyone should so much have entertained the idea of using them, let alone actually have done so.

Reviews of the Hockney exhibition have suggested that it is rather odd to launch a significant new 'contemporary' art gallery with a 1960s retrospective of Hockney's work, and in the above book, Alex Farquharson, the director of the Nottingham Contemporary, tries to explain this apparent oddness by suggesting that Hockney's work of this period 'resonates with significant aspects of art in the 1990s.' Perhaps so, but in reality the choice of the main opening exhibition has much more to do with crowd pulling: Hockney, in spite of the length of his (continuing) artistic career, is still associated with the 'Swinging Sixties' in the popular eye (particularly with his LA swimming pool paintings) like an umbilical cord that's never been severed, and therefore is likely to attract a large number of viewers.

The other exhibition - 'But what of Frances Stark, standing by itself, a naked name, bare as a ghost to whom one would like to lend a sheet?', introduced me to a more, er, contemporary artist. Frances Stark was born in 1967 in Newport Beach, California, and now lives in LA (as Hockney of course once did, but now finds Bridlington(!) more comfortable). As Hockney's numerous literary references here tend to the gay poets Walt Whitman and C. P. Cavafy, Emily Dickinson is Stark's primary literary reference. And as for music, Hockney's references to Cliff Richard probably made many people wince even in the sixities, but Stark's references to Mark E. Smith of The Fall seem very much healthier.

Great. What's next?

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