London is a fabulous place for the art lover to visit. With its top quality museums and galleries, and the incredibly amazing underground system, the visitor can get to see a great deal in a short time.
In my case the time was very short as I had only a day and a half to spare due to all sorts of other commitments, including two full-day OCA workshops. The list was long and I couldn't do it all, so eventually I skipped two major shows and went to three others that looked interesting.
One of the shows I skipped was the highly acclaimed Rothko show at the Tate. I had spent a lot of time in 2005 in the Tate's Rothko Room and the works did nothing for me. This show was supposed to be better, but although getting around London is easy with a season ticket, a lot of walking must still be done, both in and out of galleries, and time must still be found or made or taken away from other things. So Rothko got left out.
The other big show I missed was Francis Bacon, also at the Tate. I'm not a Bacon fan and this would have been more duty than pleasure. It wasn't a priority, so that got the chop too.
Instead, allocating a half day each, I chose these three shows: New Chinese Art at the Saatchi Gallery; Miro, Calder, Giacometti and Braque at the Royal Academy; and Andy Warhol at the Hayward. I enjoyed all three immensely and doubt I could have said that about Rothko or Bacon.
The new Saatchi Gallery on the King's Road was itself worth a visit though it's not quite finished -- no cafe yet, for instance, and each of the large light spaces needs a bench or two for tired backs. Entrance was free and there was a small illustrated catalogue on sale for 1.50 sterling, containing thumbnail B/W photos of every piece accompanied by clear explanatory text. It seemed to me a model for the ideal catalogue to walk around a show with.
Another good thing about this show, there were no ropes or barriers in front of the pieces, so one could closely inspect the paint handling, which was extremely impressive and professional in every case, ranging from the heavily ridged impasto of Li Songsong, to the smooth and brushless oil painting with no sinking in of Zhang Xiaogang, the well-known painter of monochrome grey faces with patches of pale colour. Among the works I liked best were two pieces by Zhang Huan, monumental tonal drawings made of incense ash on canvas. To me they showed a "sense of art" that one doesn't often see. I also liked the landscapes of Zeng Fanzhi, who paints with two brushes.
Most memorable of the exhibits, however, were the life-size figures by the controversial collaboration of Sun Yuan and Peng Yu. The detail in these was unnerving -- perfect fingernails for instance, freckled skin, even bluish veins showing under the skin. The two have been known to work with baby cadavers, and I confess to wondering just how these figures were made. The catalogue doesn't say what materials were used, it just says "life-size sculptures".
The whole Saatchi environment was friendly and helpful and a good experience. Even the lack of a cafe wasn't a problem because there are several restaurants nearby, both indoor and outdoor, in an adjoining pedestrian-only street.