I went to London today with a friend for more art viewing. The trip was born out of a good review she saw in Time Out about the Alex Katz exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery. I'd never been to any of their exhibitions before, though I've been along to look at a few of their summer pavilions (2008, 2009 and 2011, I worked out from the photos in the gallery foyer). The Serpentine Gallery is not big, it is free to go in, but it is closed on Mondays. It was very nice, clean spaces and friendly staff. I'd go again, if I liked the sound of the featured artist.
Alex Katz was fun. Born in Brooklyn in 1928 he is still working in his 90s, and according to one of the helpful gallery staff goes jogging every day. The paintings were mostly huge so there were not very many of them, some done within the past few years and some decades old. We both liked some of the fairly abstract landscapes very much, and neither of us were convinced by his people. I hadn't heard of Alex Katz until my friend told me about the Time Out review, but I'm glad I went.
Nowadays the Serpentine Gallery has a second gallery space just the other side of the road bridge across the actual Serpentine. I saw on the gallery website that that was hosting another exhibition by another artist I'd never heard of, the Lebanese Etel Adnan. It seemed perverse not to go and see what that was about while we were there, and were glad that we did, as it turned out to be about colourful abstraction including some tapestries. I thought Etel Adnan inhabited the same visual world as Klee and Kandinsky, and must try and found out some more about her now that I've seen some of her work. The building holding the second branch of the Serpentine, the Sackler Gallery, was an interesting structure, consisting of a converted gunpowder store from the Napoleonic era, with a curved restaurant space by Zaha Hadid stuck on the back.
From there we went to Tate Britain to catch Painting with Light, an investigation of how early photography and British art fed off and influenced each other from the first days of photography to Edwardian times. It was very interesting, in a gentle and nerdy way, and not very full, since there were no Monet water lilies or other high status loaned items on offer. Instead there were paintings, many Pre-Raphaelite, from the Tate's permanent collection or on loan from mostly local sources like the City of London. I'd probably seen more than half the paintings before at one time or another, but not the photographs, and they were fascinating. There were so many different methods of printing, the possibilities of combining or messing about with negatives were realised so early, the spectacle of respectable Victorians dressing up in cod Medieval costumes to recreate scenes from Tennyson was so funny, and the later photographs of country life fascinating and poignant when you realised that they were taken at the same time as Munnings was painting gypsies and carters and Cecil Sharp and Vaughan Williams were frantically collecting folk songs. It is a really nice, low key exhibition, which will win you no brownie points for attendance from the sort of people whose idea of a worthwhile art experience is limited to blockbuster Impressionist exhibitions and the opera.
We debated on the way home whether we'd been to three exhibitions or if the two halves of the Serpentine counted as one and we'd only done two. Either way we were exhausted.