LET­TER FROM THE ED­I­TOR

Portfolio - - IN THIS ISSUE - ED­I­TOR-IN-CHIEF marc@me­dia-group.com.sg

The idea that all art is new comes from the as­sump­tion that we only see art in ref­er­ence to what is cur­rently hap­pen­ing in our lives. The fram­ing, if you like, and our un­der­stand­ing of it is al­ways tied to our present re­al­ity. If you con­tem­plate an art­work, you’ll find in it a com­mon­al­ity that it shares with to­day’s head­lines more eas­ily than its ac­tual his­tor­i­cal con­text. This is among the rea­sons why art is pow­er­ful – be­cause it is in essence per­fectly time­less. Well, the good ones at least. Re­cently, I re­ceived a post card in the mail – yes, my friends still send post­cards in the mail – and it’s a pic­ture of Bruegel’s The Pro­ces­sion to Cal­vary, de­pict­ing a quin­tes­sen­tial Bruegel crowd scene – viewed from an el­e­vated ground in his style, and fea­tur­ing hun­dreds of peo­ple milling about in what ap­pears ini­tially as hap­haz­ard fash­ion. The dis­ar­ray de­picted in this work is not the same as the may­hem in, say, one of Hog­a­rth’s

A Har­lot’s Progress, but any­one from a con­tem­po­rary ur­ban me­trop­o­lis who views ei­ther work may see in them a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of cur­rent, or at least fa­mil­iar, re­al­ity. The dress is dif­fer­ent, and so is the set­ting, but the in­ten­tions of the char­ac­ters are so re­lat­able that you can imag­ine them walk­ing around in Plaza Mi­randa or Tianan­men Square. Bruegel mostly painted peas­ant life in An­twerp, while Hog­a­rth com­mem­o­rated ur­ban life in Lon­don – lit­er­ally warts and all – yet any­one look­ing at their works, even for the first time, will see the fa­mil­iar hu­man con­di­tion. I re­mem­ber Ms. Glenda Jack­son’s im­pas­sioned speech at the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment, in which she de­scribed, quot­ing a friend, Thatcher’s Lon­don as some­thing that “will be fa­mil­iar to Hog­a­rth”. That state­ment elicited howls from the gallery for the pow­er­ful, vivid im­age it sum­moned. Ms. Jack­son didn’t even have to men­tion the squalor, the poverty and the de­cay.

Just Hog­a­rth. And that is yet another rea­son why great art is re­lat­able: It is uni­ver­sal. You don’t have to be in 18th cen­tury Lon­don to imag­ine how its streets would smell.

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