I went today to Tate Modern's David Hockney exhibition. It is one of the year's Must Sees, because the great British public loves David Hockney, and the exhibition and the cafe and the members' room were all more crowded than usual. It was worth it, though, because it's a good exhibition, and although the rooms were very full there was a good community spirit with people mostly trying not to stand in each other's way, and being gracious about sharing their cafe tables. And luckily many of the works were large so a lot of people could look at them at once, not like having half a dozen faces clustered around a small Vermeer while everybody else had time to study the backs of their heads.
The show canters through his career from the early 1960s to the past eighteen months, and so some of the earlier works were comfortingly familiar from previous retrospectives, or because they form part of the Tate's permanent collection. It was fun, though to see Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy hung along other large portraits made at around the same time.(though the cat in the painting was not actually Percy, but Blanche. According to Wikipedia her presence on Ossie Clark's lap symbolises infidelity and envy, while the white lilies on the table by Celia symbolise purity and refer back to pictures of the Annunciation. She was pregnant at the time). I liked the cheerfully unsubtle symbolism of the corn cob and banana in his otherwise decorous double portrait of Christopher Isherwood and Dan Bachardy. I liked too the energy in art collector (I deduce they were collectors) Marcia Weisman's face, but why is her husband's face painted with less care and detail than the terrazzo floor tiles? The big portraits are great fun, and Hockney was an absolute wizard at shadows and textures.
A Bigger Splash is in the exhibition, of course. Who does not love A Bigger Splash, and all the swimming pool paintings?
The next thing I really, really liked were the early multi-viewpoint Polaroid collages. The ones dated from the early 1980s are laid out in a strict grid pattern, while the later ones use overlapping and angled photos, and there is something charming about the grid. I love the way that the Polaroids capture the way that when we see things we pay more attention to the aspects of the scene that interest us, so in a picture of Christopher Isherwood (again) and (I presume) Dan Bachardy, Hockney's camera has lingered on Dan Bachardy's head and shows it from about five different angles, while his feet are tiny, tucked away at the bottom of the collage. They are playful pictures. Billy Wilder appears to be photographing Hockney photographing him.
There are some of the huge landscape paintings of Yorkshire, as exhibited at the Royal Academy a few years back, and then an installation I hadn't seen before. The same rural lane is shown in a four minute video over banks of screens on all four walls of the room, recorded in spring, summer, autumn and winter. As in the photo collages made three decades previously, the piece of the scene on each screen does not exactly match up with its neighbours. The camera moves up the lane very slowly, from the same spot and at the same pace on all four walls, so you pass the black gate on the right at exactly the same moment in every season, in winter standing out against the snow and in spring barely noticeable among the lush growth. In spring a car drives up the lane towards the camera and pulls over and you realise, it is pulling over for us. In summer a white van is parked among the trees on the left, but you don't know why or who it belongs to or how long it has been there. The idea that the same place looks different through the seasons is scarcely revolutionary, but Hockney presents it with great panache.
The last room is devoted to his drawings made on iPhone and iPad, shown on screens rather than printed out as I've seen them before. The image on each screen periodically changes, as if it were an advertising hoarding, and some are animated so you see the drawing appear, stroke by stroke. One even has rubbing out, presumably as a joke and a teaching aid. They are fun, an assured draughtsman and lively colourist at play. I enjoyed them, while being reminded of the early and brilliant Pink Panther cartoon of the panther painting everything pink while the furious little workman paints everything blue.
It is fun. It is worth seeing, and it is very impressive the way he has developed a whole new body of work in electronic media in his seventies. His portraits do not move me as Rembrandt does, and his landscapes do not thrill me like late Turner or Van Gogh, but David Hockney deserves his National Treasure status. On until 29 May.