October 01, 2003
Lynn Chadwick beats Bridget Riley

Like Alice Bachini, with whom I saw them last Sunday, I liked the sculptures by Lynn Chadwick at the Tate. I preferred the semi-representational ones that were definitely people to the more famous ones, i.e. the ones I've seen a couple of before, that look a bit like birds but basically lilke weird things with messy horizontal heads.

chadwic2.jpg    riley1.jpg

This one on the left is the best Chadwick picture I could find on the Internet, which I got from here.

After Alice had gone I paid £8.50 to see the Bridget Riley exhibition, i.e. all the stuff done by the woman who did the one on the right, above. Seeing the originals adds nothing to seeing decent copies, except the knowledge that seeing the originals adds nothing to seeing decent copies, which is, I suppose, something. The paintings of Bridget Riley are artwork for the printer, presented as if they were regular paintings, and although I like them a lot, I'd already seen them all, in perfectly satisfactory printouts thank you.

Some of the pictures are like those bits of artwork they have in magazines to show you how the eye can sometimes be deceived, into seeing colours that aren't there, and into seeing diagonals which are really upright, and so on. Some of them look like that new flag someone has designed for the EU, like a multicoloured barcode. They aren't unpleasant. Many are very pretty. And if you do the same artistic thing for about four decades, it will have its own kind of single-minded impressiveness. But … the Chadwicks were much better to actually see in the flesh, I thought. The Chadwicks are still there, unlike the Rileys which finished on Sunday, and viewing the Chadwicks costs nothing.

My favourite Chadwicks, and I couldn't find a photo of these, were three ladies with shiny golden triangular flat faces, and with shiny golden rectangles of accurately done bosoms and bellies on the front of otherwise very sculptural and black and abstract figures. It was as if they had a window on their fronts instead of clothes.

If Chadwick's reputation had taken a slightly different turn, things like these, only smaller (as some of the Chadwicks themselves are - as Alice explains) could easily be the stuff of car boot sales, with the art critics all sneering away at their crass popular appeal and shameless playing-to-the-gallery quality, what with the nicest of them so clearly being of something.

If they were at a car boot sale, would I have liked them so much? Probably not. At the Tate the Chadwicks are keeping out stuff that would almost certainly have been far worse, whereas there's usually fun stuff at car boot sales, if you look. At a car boot sale I would have said: these are okay. At the Tate I said: Hey! These are okay! With modern art, you are grateful for small mercies.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:30 AM
Category: Modern artPaintingSculpture