Arriving in Cambridge, I head along along the rather long walk from the Train Station to the centre, stopping to visit the church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs and some of the smaller colleges that I hadn’t visited before like Emmanuel and Magdalene. The first thing I want to visit is Kettle’s Yard. I start by visiting the redundant church of St Peter next to it, which stands atop a small (this is the Fens, after all) hill. The house itself is something of an oddity, with items in each room being strictly specified by its former owners (e.g. down to having a lemon in a bowl in the front room to offset a painting behind it and to match a nearby Miro), giving it an aspect not unlike the Dennis Severs House in London. Themes recur throughout the house; Hepworth and Gaudier-Bzreska sculptures, Nicholson paintings, glass vases and spheres, stones arranged in patterns. Found objects mirror the artworks throughout. I visit the nearby church at the castle, with its collection of Victorian stained glass, before heading back south to visit Queen’s college and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The Museum’s ground floor mostly accounts for the Archaeology section, dwelling on a set of deer skulls found in Yorkshire that were used as masks. The upper floors are dominated by the Anthropological collections, including a Thai demon, Samurai armour, a Haida totem pole, a Buddha, Mexican carnival masks and casts of Mayan sculptures.
The following weekend I visit the Tate for its exhibition on Natalia Goncharova. I’ve seen a lot of her work before in exhibitions on Russian modernism but this a lot more extensive, covering her influences in iconography and folk art as well as the influence of European modernism. The exhibition describes her approach as ‘everythingism’ and covers clothing, costumes, set designs, iconography and Lubok panels as well as her painting. The subjects can range from nudes done in a cubist style to peasant women dancing and Jewish shop owners. The oddest thing in the exhibition is a set of mystical images of the 1914 war, featuring angels with biplanes. The items that most stand out for me are some of her landscapes, which seem to start in an idiom that different to Cezanne before giving way to her fusion of cubism and futurism. The Tate also has an exhibition of work by Takis (Panayiotis Vassilakis). Some of the concepts are striking if repetitive; objects suspended in mid-air by magnetic force, forced to revolve perpetually or to make a series of generative sounds as they do so. Like a lot of conceptual art it suffers from the limitations of expressions concepts visually and suffers in comparison to the range of Goncharova’s work. The most interesting piece is an early work of sculpture that looks like a Giacometti combined with a Cycladic sculpture. There are a couple of other things on as well; some of Nan Goldin’s photos and Yinka Shonibare’s British Library installation.
The following weekend I go to the Royal Academy’s Felix Vallotton exhibition, which rather surprises me; I’d mostly seen his landscapes before (mostly sunsets over water, only one of which is shown here) but the work here almost feels like the painterly equivalent of a Zola or a Balzac, following Lautrec rather than Vuillard. Associated with the Nabis, Vallotton nonetheless preferred a style that was equally indebted to Ingres and Japanese woodblock prints. His own woodblock range from scenes of riots, street scenes and the world’s fair through to the first world war. Some of the painting follows a similar vein, depicting places like department stores but a lot tend to dwell on domestic interiors. The colour palettes often echo the Nabis but the style is certainly much more realist; a series of paintings with mirrors leaves me reminded more of Velasquez than Bonnard. The framing is often highly theatrical; a scene at a theatre foregrounds one woman and her hand resting on the circle barrier. Something similar applies to his still lives, which are filled with the joy of surface details and reflections on glass or metal.