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Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The LEGACY of Rubens

I am so disappointed that I feel compelled to set pen to paper, or, should I 'say', put fingers to keyboard. I have just returned from an exhibition, called Rubens and his legacy, at London's Royal Academy. 

I am not a great fan of the Flemmish painter Peter Paul Rubens, but I enjoy his work sufficiently to have put my head into the Royal Academy, an institution that I do not particularly care for. It is, in my opinion, often filled with people, some of who feel that visiting the Royal Academy somehow adds 'respectability' to their cultural self-perception. 

The name 'Rubens' in the exhibition's title is given a far bigger font size than the words that follow it, namely, 'and his legacy'. When I entered the exhibition, one of the first pictures that I remarked on was an evening landscape. I said to my wife: "That looks Turner-esque..."; and indeed it was a painting, not by Rubens, but by Turner who is apparently to be included within Rubens's 'legacy'.  And, this helps illustrate my problem with this exhibition. The works by Rubens are, like orange squash, heavily diluted with works of art that the show's curators feel - and I emphasise 'feel' - are the great artist's 'legacy'. 

I have to admit that the title of the exhibition led me to believe that what I was going to see was a number of Ruben's excellent canvases that portray soft-porn or eroticism in such a way that even the visually-impaired can enjoy it. I would have been happy if a few of the exhibits illustrated Ruben's legacy, but I was not. Rubens's works were hard to spot in the sea of pictures by other artists including Van Dyck, Constable, Turner, and an obscure porcelain decorator from the Chinese Qing dynasty. The works of art that fill the vast areas of wall space between the works by Rubens, which I was hoping to see, were undoubtedly of exceptionally high quality. However, had I wanted to see a pot-pourri of fine art, tastefully chosen, I could have done so without becoming a Friend of the Royal Academy or queing up for an expensive ticket by visiting the National Gallery or the Wallace Collection or a private art gallery in the streets near to the Royal Academy.

On leaving the Rubens exhibition, which I feel would be better named The LEGACY of Rubens, we dropped into the White Cube Gallery in Masons Yard. The exhibition being shown there contains five wooden sculptural works, simple in construction but otherwise awe-inspiring, by Virginia Overton. Although not Rubens, her curious bits of woodwork are exciting and novel. This tiny exhibition was, I felt, somehow more honest and life-enhancing than what I had just seen at the staid Royal Academy.

To be fair to the Royal Academy, they have held some excellent shows including a brilliant one about the Bauhaus held in the late 1960s, and, more recently, a wonderful collection of artworks by Anselm Kiefer.

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Adam Yamey

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