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... is mountainous or flat, these images often have a striking resemblance to compositions by Caspar David Friedrich. Working out there in nature, then, Long is a performer in the open-air theatre of the sublime. But is this aspect of his work its main distinction? There are two possible extreme interpretations of the relationship between Long’s outdoor and ...

Italy’s New Art

David Sylvester, 30 March 1989

... The Italians have the same sort of problem over making art as we have over playing football. After ages of doing it far better than anyone else, they had to come to accept that quite a lot of foreigners were doing it better – with the difference that our football has been in that situation for about thirty-five years, Italian art for about three hundred and fifty ...

Notes on Cézanne

David Sylvester, 7 March 1996

... Refaire Poussin sur nature’. Why did Cézanne single out Poussin when Rubens was his hero – his avowed and his manifest hero? One thing that Cézanne and Poussin have in common is that they seem unable to make an image that isn’t imbued with gravity. Another is that everything in the picture seems to be in a place ordained for it. But not through a similar process ...

Something to look at

David Sylvester, 10 March 1994

... Great art collections formed by individuals are generally highly specialised – French Impressionist paintings, English sporting pictures, early Chinese bronzes – or somewhat specialised – Classical antiquities, Old Master drawings, Islamic art. What is special about George Ortiz’s collection of antiquities and ethnographic art, part of which is currently on show at the Royal Academy, is its combination of quality and breadth ...

On the Edge

David Sylvester, 27 April 2000

A New Thing Breathing: Recent Work 
by Tony Cragg.
Tate Gallery Liverpool
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... The debate went on for most of the 20th century: was its greatest artist Matisse or Picasso? This was perhaps the only century of the millennium in which the championship was a two-horse race – and a very close race, so that there may never be a consensus lasting more than fifty years as to which of them was the winner. Nevertheless, there is a clear distinction in their greatness, one relating purely to its nature, not its degree ...

Late Picasso at the Tate

David Sylvester, 1 September 1988

... which can be seen as a sort of compressed version of Guernica – whose dual models in Poussin and David are not painterly in style. Having gone further here than ever before into the post-Renaissance tradition, Picasso soon turned his back on it to work, more characteristically, in a pre-Giottesque tradition. If his painting of the period preceding his late ...

Mayhem at Millbank

David Sylvester: The new hang at the Tate Britain (2000), 18 May 2000

... at their ease; it’s argumentative. Here and there the argument is illuminating, as when David Bomberg’s In the Hold (c.1913-14) is hung next to Leon Kossoff’s Children’s Swimming Pool, Autumn Afternoon (1971). Both are busy compositions, with a mass of vigorous figures squeezed closely into a space. But the Bomberg is pretty abstract and is ...

Hanging Offence

David Sylvester, 21 October 1993

... of Josef Albers shows bias. The exclusion of Mark di Suvero means the omission of the one artist (David Smith is something else) who has created a sculptural equivalent of Abstract Expressionism, the movement which forms the nucleus of the exhibition. The exclusion of Chuck Close, accompanied by the inclusion of three large works by Jonathan Borofsky, can ...

Giacometti and Bacon

David Sylvester, 19 March 1987

Giacometti: A Biography 
by James Lord.
Faber, 592 pp., £25, June 1986, 0 571 13138 7
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... Giacometti’s widow, says the preface, has chosen ‘to prevent the appearance in her husband’s biography of any unpublished writings by him of whatever sort: letters, journals or random notations’. Another recent biography of a leading modern artist was composed under similar restrictions. Peter Ackroyd says he was ‘forbidden by the Eliot estate to quote from Eliot’s published work, except for purposes of fair comment in a critical context, or to quote from Eliot’s unpublished work or correspondence ...

Solid and Fleeting

David Sylvester, 17 December 1992

... It is interesting that Richard Serra, who is not short of offers of highly promising locations for which to make site-specific sculptures, accepted the Tate’s invitation to do something in their domineering central hall – a space ostensibly built for showing sculpture but serving that purpose rather badly, partly because it makes the things put into it look as if they were lost at the bottom of a well, partly because its huge Ionic columns dwarf other forms in the same field of vision ...

Constable’s Weather

David Sylvester, 29 August 1991

... Perhaps our weather is the main ingredient in our education as well as in our conversation. Could it not be that the origin of the Englishman’s phlegm is a childhood of last-minute cancellations through rain of long-awaited treats, inuring him for ever to disappointment? In any event the great English painters of weather did not have to submit to the weather’s domination ...

In bed with the Surrealists

David Sylvester, 6 January 1994

Investigating Sex: Surrealist Research 1928-1932 
edited by José Pierre, translated by Malcolm Imrie.
Verso, 215 pp., £17.95, November 1992, 0 86091 378 3
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... This book​ presents good translations of verbatim reports of 12 organised discussions on sex between members of the Surrealist group in Paris and some of their acquaintances. Seven meetings were held between January and early May 1928, five between November 1930 and August 1932. The first two reports were published at the time in La Révolution surréaliste; the other ten were unknown until a French edition edited by José Pierre appeared three years ago ...

The Real Magic

David Sylvester, 8 June 1995

A Biographical Dictionary of Film 
by David Thomson.
Deutsch, 834 pp., £25, November 1994, 0 233 98859 9
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... now I have taken the view that my ‘Desert Island’ book, if I were asked, would have to be David Thomson’s A Biographical Dictionary of the Cinema. First published in 1970, it has just re-appeared as A Biographical Dictionary of Film in a third edition that is revised and considerably enlarged. Despite its titles it is indeed a work of ...

‘Someone you had to be a bit careful with’

David Sylvester: Gallery Rogues, 30 March 2000

Groovy Bob: The Life and Times of Robert Fraser 
by Harriet Vyner.
Faber, 317 pp., £20, October 1999, 0 571 19627 6
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... Art dealers are promising subjects for biographies. They buy and sell portable objects that can easily cost more than a castle or two. They survive by outwitting some of the world’s most cunning and ruthless manipulators of wealth, and they also know how to charm the old rich, key sources of supply. When they deal in the work of living artists they shape the careers of some of the most charismatic and paranoid individuals of their time ...

The Grin without the Cat

David Sylvester: Jackson Pollock at the Tate, 1 April 1999

Jackson Pollock 
by Kirk Varnedoe and Pepe Karmel.
Tate Gallery, 336 pp., £50, March 1999, 1 85437 275 0
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Interpreting Pollock 
by Jeremy Lewison.
Tate Gallery, 84 pp., £9.99, March 1999, 1 85437 289 0
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... In New York the Museum of Modern Art’s Pollock exhibition was thrilling in the manner of a saga. With exhilarating force it told the incident-packed story of an inspired and inspiring career cut off at 44 by a self-destructive death. It showed what confusion there was in the early development of a young artist of limited talent and uncertain direction ...

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