Take it slow
There is much to savour at this year’s Masterpiece fair if you take your time, says Huon Mallalieu
FOR all the millions of pounds of art on offer at this year’s Masterpiece fair and the London Art Week, perhaps the most important thing is free. Slow Art Workshops (SAW) will take place at the fair at 6pm each evening from June 29 to July 7, as well as at numerous London galleries from June 20, especially during the week from June 30 to July 7.
SAW is the brainchild of my colleague Susan Moore, an alumna of COUNTRY LIFE who now writes authoritatively on art, collecting and the market for The Spectator and Apollo.
In conversation at Maastricht in March, where we were surrounded not only by so much great art, but also by so much of the world’s expertise, she lamented how little is done to teach people how to look at art, and really see what they are looking at, and that they are actively discouraged from handling it. How good it would be, she proposed, to have a corner in every art and antiques fair where, under the direction of a specialist, people could learn to use their eyes and hands properly to enjoy works of art.
A sensitive ‘hand’ is as important to a connoisseur as an ‘eye’. Obviously, the texture and heft of ceramic, bronze or wood can tell one much and the feel often thrills, but, with experience, hands can even help in assessing a drawing or painting. Something that feels dead in the hand should be treated with caution.
As we discussed her idea, the name Slow Art emerged, chiming with the admirable Slow Food movement, and, by chance, in synchronicity with the launch of Slow Art Day visits to American and German public galleries and artists’ studios, in which people spend up to 15 minutes really looking at just one or two works. Now, less than four months later, she has brought her idea to fruition with the enthusiastic cooperation not just of fairs and galleries, but also of curators at the British Museum, the Fitzwilliam and other institutions traditionally averse to allowing the public to approach their treasures.
It is intended to stage these pop-up events internationally and, in terms of public education and happiness, this simple, free (except for museum charges where applicable) and brilliant idea is worth all the promises of political parties.
The 20-minute SAW sessions at Masterpiece will take place on the JLT Speciality stand opposite the Mount Street Deli and subjects will include a Chinese scholar’s rock, with Marcus Flacks; Rustic pottery v Court porcelain, with Errol Manners; Regency silver with Lewis Smith; and a Pugin chair with Martin Levy. Others are yet to be finalised.
These Masterpiece sessions will be on a first come, first served basis, but those at galleries will have to be pre-booked either at slowartworkshop@gmail. com or mail@londonartweek. co.uk as numbers are limited. London Art Week will be previewed here on June 28.
Not being naturally austere, I prefer the quiet emotion of Sir William Nicholson to the rigour of his cerebral son Ben. Particularly when looking at his landscapes and still-lifes, one so often experiences a little lifting of the heart. Patrick Bourne, the upstairs neighbour of Agnew’s in St James’s Place, has four paintings that certainly do this. The 13in by 16in Landscape near Harlech was painted in 1918 or 1919, a difficult time for him with the deaths of his first wife, a son and daughter and his meeting with his second wife, so emotion is an ingredient. There is also strength, as the stone wall writhes up the hill like a mythical Worm
Mazzoleni of Turin and London has a lovely work by one of Italy’s most important abstract painters, Piero Dorazio (1927–2005). Best known for his vibrant use of colour, Dorazio was influenced by Abstract Expressionism and colour-field painting and befriended painters Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning as well as the art critic Clement Greenberg. The gallery will present a particularly large and striking example in Dorazio’s 161 ∕3in by 68in Vis a Vis I from 1988