Urban inspiration – tracking down the big exhibitions

A few days ago I was passing by the National Portrait Gallery in London. Two impressive queues were going round the corners of the building. It was sunny and just minutes to 10 am when the gallery opens. In London, it’s normal to have people queuing to visit an exhibition. And it has nothing to do with the sun. They would have opened their umbrellas.

That’s one of the great things about big cities: endless cultural treats, and enough ‘spectators’ for endless sold out events. Take David Hockey, one of UK’s most known artists of the last century. His recently finished iPad Yorkshire landscapes exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts was a hit, with people waiting in line sometimes for hours (winter time!), raving reviews, huge banners across the city’s walls, and plastic bags with colorful landscapes. Of course, a well-oiled marketing machinery can be ‘blamed’ for part of the success, but with major artists it’s not hard to sell out. Maybe because they are such a big inspiration.

I agree, inspiration is an intimate, hard to define and classify experience but if you’re all wound up when faced to masterpieces, not missing the major exhibitions out there is a big plus.

If you happen to be or just pass through London until the end of May, we suggest you don’t miss Lucian Freud Portraits. Here you have some incentives. It’s the most ambitious exhibition of his work since 2001, with over 100 paintings, drawings and etchings brought together from around the world. That’s quite unique, as you might never be able to see some of these portraits again. At least in real life.

Freud (1922-2011) was one of those great realist artists able to create work of striking observational intensity. It is a bit like an overdose of sincerity that stirs the viewer and forces pensive moods. With around 100 human beings staring straight at you from the paintings is a pretty intense encounter that might leave you feeling drained and exposed. There is a fascination in his use of thicker brushes, dense application of pigments, chronological changes in style, sitters and interests. The stories that come with the portraits are just as inspiring as the paintings themselves. From famous people to royalty, family and friends, many wanted to pose for him. Including the Queen. And it’s not a flattering portrait. But then again, you didn’t pose for Freud if you wanted flattery.

The exhibition is not recommended to prudes who think art is just cherubs and apples on a plate. Or to vicars. I’m telling this because although the vicar I heard the other day was impressed with Freud’s talent, he wasn’t particularly fond of his choice of topics.

Whether you’ll like it or not, I don’t know. But I do know that it will stick with you and put more questions and ideas into your head than you may like to believe. Also, we cannot guarantee no queuing at the entrance.

More about other big names in the city soon. Enjoy!

National Portrait Gallery, London
Until 27 May 2012

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Urban inspiration – tracking down the big exhibitions

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