Seduced by Art?


Immediately after visiting the National Portrait Gallery, I went to the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery to see Seduced by Art which is an exploration of the transference of ideas, constructs and images from the classical traditions of painting through to contemporary photography. To get some sense of the work in the show, the easiest thing is to follow this link to the exhibition site.

I found the whole exhibition very disappointing. Whilst there are some interesting work on show I’m not sure it represents the best in contemporary photography. And whilst there are obvious continuities between the classic traditions of representational paintings and representational photography, I’m not sure that this exhibition justified its large scale billing as a major, heavily promoted, extensively merchandised and fully priced, National Gallery exhibition. There was just not enough to it, and some sections were shockingly poor.

Most particularly, the UK has one of the strongest traditions of large scale landscape photography in the world, capable of delivering monumental images which take your breath away. Think, for example, of John Davies, Joe Cornish or Colin Prior. This tradition, which really does have a strong connection with the British tradition of landscape painting was essentially unrepresented in the exhibition. It was a great opportunity missed.

This is not to say that there is nothing of interest in the exhibition. Luc Delahaye’s panoramic view of a plain in Afghanistan immediately after an American bombing raid is powerful in its eery emptiness. But the picture I spent most time in front of was Maisie Broadhead’s ‘Keep Them Sweet’, a large photographic tableau which reimagines a C19 picture Allegory of Wealth by Simon Vouet. (It is the picture at the top of this blog). It is a brilliantly executed work, carefully crafted and with great attention to detail. It made me smile and I really liked it, but what I couldn’t really understand was why?

When I got home, I went to Maisie Broadhead’s website to see if I could get some context. I didn’t. What I discovered was a large number of equally beautiful and well crafted images referencing back to Vermeer, Hogarth and many others. As pieces, I cannot fault them. And there are many I would be very happy to hang on my walls. But I’m still left with little sense of why so much creative energy is being channeled in this particular re-imaging direction.