RA Magazine Autumn 2007
Issue Number: 96
Two shows explore the cross-currents between photography and painting that shape our vision of the modern world, writes Peter Murray
The use of photography as an inspiration for painting has long been a source of debate among artists and critics. In his seminal book Art and Photography, published more than 30 years ago, Aaron Scharf demonstrated how painters such as Ingres, Manet and Renoir looked towards photography, both openly and surreptitiously.
In fact, the use of the camera in art extends back to Canaletto, and even earlier. But in spite of this impressive pedigree, even today photographs can elicit derisive comments from those who seek what they perceive as 'traditional’ values in art.
Each generation perhaps needs to be reminded of some essential truths of the art game. And so the director of the Hayward Gallery Ralph Rugoff has taken on this worthy task in the forthcoming exhibition, ‘The Painting of Modern Life’. The appeal of the lens in an image-hungry society underscores the show, bringing together outstanding contemporary artists, including works by Peter Doig, Franz Gertsch, Gerhard Richter, Elizabeth Peyton and Vija Celmins.
The exhibition includes key paintings that have defined cultural attitudes of the late twentieth century, such as Malcolm Morley’s photorealist painting of a race track in 1970s South Africa, obliterated by a red ‘x’. The Hayward show also features that popular master of the deadpan gaze Andy Warhol, whose screenprints and photo-based paintings now sell for immoderate amounts.
To mark the twentieth anniversary of the artist’s death, Warhol is celebrated in a major retrospective at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh. Like most shows on Warhol, it captures the glamour of his times with images of popular icons such as Debbie Harry. Yet it also reveals a morbid preoccupation with death that underpins much of his art, whether it be photographs of Jackie Kennedy at her husband’s funeral, or images of car crashes culled from newspaper photographs.
The Painting of Modern Life, Hayward Gallery, London (0871 663 2509; www.haywardgallery.org.uk), 4 Oct–30 Dec; Andy Warhol: A Celebration of Life and Death, Royal Scottish Academy Building, Edinburgh (0131 624 6200; www.nationalgalleries.org), until 7 Oct
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