Hats off to the Arnolfini

I take it all back – all that whinging about the opening show at the Arnolfini a month or so ago. Rather than be castigated for launching the newly revamped space on a poor show they should be congratulated. I’ve just seen the latest show ‘Starting At Zero: Black Mountain College 1933-1957’ and it is an absolute stunner. This was obviously the show that they were meant to open with, but due to incredibly efficient contractors etc. they must have finished a month ahead of schedule and this show obviously wasn’t ready in time. So credit where credit’s due – it’s not often these days that a project finishes early (it’s just a shame it buggers up their exhibition plan).
Anyway back to the current show.
When I saw the title I was quite excitable – the Black Mountain College was an incredible experiment in an alternative art schooling that was significant in its helping defining the course of High Modernism; when I read the publicity that mentioned Franz Kline too I was over the moon. To my knowledge there’s only one painting in a UK public collection (‘Meryon’ at Tate Modern) and a small paper piece in the British Museum – that’s it. I expected the Arnolfini show to have probably the British Museum piece and perhaps ‘Meryon’ if we were lucky, I didn’t expect to see a beautiful diptych on paper (Untitled 1952). Throughout the evening, interspersed with a lovely soft Rauschenberg (Untitled – matt black with fabric 1952), sublime photographic portraits by Hazel Larsen Archer and a beautifully textured painting by a new name to me, Lyonel Feininger, I kept returning to the top piece of the Kline diptych.
The last time I was able to wallow in Kline’s work was at the Whitechapel retrospective in 1995 where the audience was spoilt – the paintings easily outshone the works on paper, but when isolated from the great signature black and white canvases these little paper pieces have a new life. There’s no point going into an in-depth description of what the piece does, or how it looks. You just need to get down there and see this fantastic show; I’ll be making frequent repeat visits before it closes in January. You can’t have too much of a good thing.
I also met up with Paul Nash of North Sea Navigator, who seems keen on doing some collaborative miserable-as-sin audio-visual thing – which would cheer me up no end. It’s nice to abuse a masochistic audience every now and then.
So all in all – a good evening.
The Arnolfini’s got a new director as well. Tom Trevor – an artist – promising.


Screen presentation with North Sea Navigator at CUBE cinema, Bristol.


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