by David Shilling

T he Festive Season comes and goes but even in this era when we are all concerned over the ongoing financial  crisis and its far reaching effects  and we are  laden down with gilt and guilt, in some areas we have never been more festive. And have you noticed? Now there is not just one, there are not even just two Festive Seasons, each year and I don’t mean the Festivals of the variety of religions, from Chanucah, through Xmas to Diwali, or the non-religious ones like Chinese New Year, I mean that in the creative world of the Arts, the world is suddenly run amuck with Festivals, all over the world and all the time. And they seem to be thriving. You might even be forgiven for thinking that Festivals have made Museums and Galleries redundant.

And today Art Fairs like Frieze in London and Art Basle Miami have never had it so good! In fact they never had it good before, because both of these are such recent, upstart additions to the International scene and when they started just a few years ago they seemed doomed for early consignment to the bin, albeit an artistically gilded bin. And that was way back then, in an age of unrivaled consumer spending and optimism. And yet here they were still healthy, youngsters thriving in 2011, and putting on weight as youngsters do! As resplendent as ever, full of works that well, varied in quality so greatly that to call some of these works “work” is hard when they defied the description and it appeared that several pieces had actually demanded no work at all from the artist taking the definition of “conceptual” art to a new level.

In truth Art Fairs are wonderful places to get an overview, and if you seriously do want to acquire art you can meet any number of the galleries very conveniently, and if you want to you can check out what the market is up to. At these International Fairs, you’ll see some of the top International galleries pitching their best shots. Art shows are wonderfully entertaining because however high the standard there always seems to be something that slips through the net and allows you to stop and stare in amazement. Its like a family wedding, however glamorous your family, there is always one family member who gets it terribly wrong, and provides the best entertainment unintentionally! Just recently, a friend of mine challenged me to defend Contemporary Art as it were standing on one foot; by stopping dead in front of an accumulation of bathroom artifacts and demanding I explain why that piece merited the space in this very expensive and prized wall-to-wall carpeted show. Luckily I managed to pull a few timely references to other artist’s work, threw in a couple of popular names, enough to satisfy him and get us back on track and on the final leg to the exit after what was a long but worthwhile visit to one of the winter’s finest fairs. The opposite of course is true and equally in even what you might consider the worst possible fair, that has been a real let-down, you are bound to find at least one piece whose quality shines above the rest – but then that is true of a Sunday morning Garage sale, where we all love to live out of dream of being the one to discover something priceless but hitherto overlooked.  But if you really are interested to study “art” at any level and can bear to leave the comfort of your computer screen, you still cannot beat the one-person show. Or at least a well and expertly curator and themed show,  and we have been so blessed with some amazing shows this year. Too many to mention but I have to admit the Gerhard Richter at the Tate Modern Gallery which dealt in depth with the artist’s life work, is a case in point. It had that added dimension that you can’t appreciate just by witnessing a couple of pieces, in a mixed show. This is why you can’t do without these shows in International Museums and Galleries. A good solo show gives you that all important context. Unlike the block buster International Fairs where there are just so many galleries and just so many works its hard to learn a lot. OK themes emerge; trends are traceable, especially if you attend year by year. This year I found Frieze more full of “decoration” (in a positive way)  and less high on angst than I recalled before. It seems there is Color, and light beyond the black.  But the best solo shows tell a story, they inform you about a painter and a period in the  ongoing history of art. And the very best offer a once in a lifetime opportunity, like the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery, London where the two versions of Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks were displayed in the same room for the very first time ever, The recently restored version is now in the National Gallery London collection and after February you will have to travel to the Louver in Paris again to see the other. It was an unforgettable moment to stand there and realize that experience was never possible before and never likely to happen to me again in my lifetime!

Performing Arts Festivals are something different. One of my favorite times of the year in Monaco is when I get the chance to see a different Contemporary Dance company perform every night for over a week during Monaco Dance Forum.  Monaco Dance Forum was for some time only held every second year, but now has become an annual Festival. This year was as usual exceptional, so many styles and different approaches to dance. And there were even more signs this year that dance and installation art have a lot to gain from each other. A striking example was Malou Airaudo’s Irgendwo. The highlight of this festival had to be a unique one-night only collaboration of Monte Carlo Ballet and the Bolshoi. If you are thinking of coming to the Riviera and its a really long way to come, there is also a Dance Festival in Cannes which is close and also it took place  just before the Monaco events started. Although also very highly praised by the critics, it is still slated to happen only once every two years.

Festivals like these offer fantastic treats and great value. But if, in spite of this all year round festive spirit, you still can’t get the financial crisis off your mind, there’s still something to celebrate. There are an abundance of public art manifestations that cost you nothing at all. When I came out of the National Gallery in London after the Leonardo exhibition (all advance tickets sold out months in advance, some tickets available at the door each day, first come first served, some people start queuing the night before!) there was a plethora of art on the streets outside, and more free art all around the city , the temporary exhibit of a vast ship ( Nelson’s) in a glass bottle by Yinka Shonibare in Trafalgar Square ( yours to take home though for a mere 362,500 pounds if the National Maritime Museum have not snapped it up by now – they have launched an appeal to raise the funds! ) and getting a bit more down to earth, I don’t think pavement artists have ever been so sophisticated! And then of course there is a wealth of talent turning to the Internet to show their creations. Art for all and all for Art! That’s the message for 2012! See there is always something to celebrate!!


To read the entire article, and view all the photos, please view the Art of the Times winter – spring 2012 issue as a PDF above.


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