Art, Intimacy and the Avant-Garde
Barbican Art Gallery
until 27 January 2019
This is a compelling, even odd, exhibition which mixes the obvious and the doctrinaire. The obvious is that for a number of artists in the years 1900–45 sex and art went together, and that being an artist made a person sexually attractive. And that many artists who came together in a spirit of anti-bourgeois free love fell out badly. And that highly sensitive people who invest heavily in a relationship which breaks up can suffer very seriously. And that some artists like to live with fellow artists and when they do they often collaborate, though one tends to end up more famous than the other. That’s the obvious.
The doctrinaire is that, firstly, the great artists of the time were not solitary (white) males. This needs some nuance. There were major Avant-Garde artists whose creativity was stimulated and sustained by partners who were fellow artists—Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera stand out, but also Vavara Stepanova and Alexander Rodchenko, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson. The argument is less strong if we list the major artists whose relationships were not collaborative, e.g. Cezanne and Matisse. Then there is Picasso who, though included at the Barbican because of his relationship with Dora Maar, was an old-fashioned macho-sexist and not that influenced by Maar. Picasso did have a great collaborative relationship, that with Georges Braque, but that’s not in this exhibition and was never more than a friendship.
The same goes for the two other most important artists in the show. Duchamp is the classic Avant-Garde artist and the show brackets him with his mistress Maria Martins. Moulds of her body parts provided Duchamp with some bedside erotica, but it’s not obvious she was anything other than a model for him. Finally, there is the relationship of Rodin and Camille Claudel with which the show begins and which shows a powerful intimacy between the two artists, but not much collaboration. The show’s central argument is not strong.
The show’s second doctrine is that in this period advanced artistic circles were transgressive and provided a safe space for fluid sexuality, especially with the Dadaist emphases on l’amour fou and on the erotic as driving the unconscious. That is undoubtedly true. Whether it justifies turning a blind eye to the abortions, abandoned children and emotional wreckage some artists left behind is not part of the curators’ moral compass.
But this argument also needs nuance, and curiously one relationship which would have helped the case is ignored. That relationship is Rodin’s affair with Gwen John after which he drew erotic pictures of John’s later affair with Hilda Flodin. That would have very neatly illustrated the show’s transgressive ethos. But you wonder whether that ethos is so special to the Avant-Garde. At the Barbican, transgression means having multiple affairs (many of the artists) and having a fluid sexuality (rather fewer and in the most famous cases imputed rather than proved, e.g. Lempicka, Dali). But the most successful artists in the show—Klimt, Rodin, Picasso, Kahlo—were transgressive only in an old-fashioned bohemian way. Sex did not begin with Dada.
A stronger argument for the socially transgressive Avant-Garde comes with Americans in Paris. The inclusion in the show of Parisian publishers and booksellers post-1918 allows for the introduction of the Left Bank Lesbians, and how many Americans know the Sapphic origins of their most famous bookshop? Paris was also the setting for the sad story of Nancy Cunard, the financial support for many Avant-Garde figures. But why include her rather than Beckett—who she helped publish—other than to make a point about her relationship with the African-American Henry Crowder, and not the obvious point that even amongst Avant-Garde artists mixed race relationships were no more common as amongst everybody else?
Another element which the show says was new to the Avant-Garde—the collaborative turning of life into a Gesamtkuntswerk—so needs to be put into perspective. The chief example of this aesthetic is the work of Klimt and Emilie Flöge and there was an undoubted crossover, artistic and commercial, between the two. But because the show focuses on relationships rather than an entire artistic oeuvre, it ignores Klimt’s decisive turn from soft furnishings to the rawness of Egon Schiele—surely a more transgressive or progressive artist than many at the Barbican though he had an entirely normal, if short, marriage.
So, the show is not intellectually convincing. And in terms of its exhibits it also falls short. There are a lot of photos and woven fabrics and first editions and not many individual works of quality, which is a shame because some of the artists did produce fine works. There is, though, a plaster cast of Lee Miller’s torso which gives some sense of the woman. It is best to treat this exhibition not as an argument but as a collection of memorabilia from a particular set of artistic circles marked by intense and often sad personal stories.
The Lehman Trilogy
The Lehman Trilogy begins with a solitary cleaner on stage. The set is a glass-walled office which could be any corporate environment from Canary Wharf to Wall Street, Singapore or Sydney. A radio plays the news of the impending collapse of Lehman Brothers, the portentous event of 2008 which brought a long-established global banking giant to its demise and sent shockwaves through the system.
This thrilling new play created a buzz when it opened at the National Theatre this summer, perhaps because of its director (Sam Mendes in a rare foray back into the theatre) or its star, Simon Russell Beale, whom Mendes last directed here as King Lear. He’s on blistering form, with a versatility not seen since he played Stalin with the accent of Cornish dairy farmer. Or perhaps the buzz was caused by the new play itself, reworked into three, tight one-hour acts adapted by Ben Power from Stefano Massini’s original to give a box set binge which is wholly enthralling. The other actors, Ben Miles and Adam Godley, are strong pillars in their own right—recognizable, flexible and absorbing. All three of them take different parts across the miles and generations: coquettish maidens, haughty merchants, children and babies, politicians, parents, employees. And the designer’s work by Es Devlin gives a canvas for the ideas and themes to emerge with intelligence and cohesion. It’s a welcome success for the NT, which has been struggling recently to maintain a run-rate of hit shows.
As soon as Simon Russell Beale steps up inside the set with a battered suitcase, and the harbour of New York is projected behind, Henry Lehman’s arrival in America feels like a taste of the Promised Land with all the patriarchal weight it can intone. He founds a business, a small shop in Montgomery, Alabama. Soon his two brothers appear from Bavaria, and the dynamic is immediately established, the obvious rapport of the actors translating into the fraternal relationship, and the play never looks back. Part of this momentum is thanks to the script, which has been crafted into an elegant, energetic whole—one-part ballad, one-part history, and one-part quickfire dialogue which could hold its own on Netflix. Using repetition, both for characters and ideas, is helpful. The ‘trust me’ refrain in the first act helps show how they built, and were built, as a business. The second act’s suggestion that Philip Lehman of the next generation is always able to pick the winning card and focus on strategy is equally powerful. A dream sequence in each act is as much popular imagination as private nightmare, recurring in each new generation.
Jewishness abounds. Never in a cloying, restrictive way, but as a cultural norm along with their blood ties and mother’s milk. They say the Kaddish on Henry’s death, rip their suits and observe the full seven days of shiva. Their children have instruction in Hebrew. There is attention to honour and continuity. Rabbis crop up. Other Jewish firms are name-checked. Yet this is not about specialness or exclusivity, although it taps into the rich fund of story and identity in both race and religion. Naturally, those two searing events of biblical history are called to mind. If their arrival in America was the Exodus, then the Wall Street Crash of 1929 proves to be the Exile. It is this which takes all their energy and might to stay afloat. Change and opening up to outsiders is inevitable. When Philip Lehman leaves the action in 1947 at the age of 85, the business cannot close entirely but observes three minutes of silence and no trading. By now the firm is investing in modern, intangible commodities like ‘motion pictures.’ It seems control is being lost, not just to the external people now coming in with their different ideas, but to the irrepressible need to operate ever higher, ever faster.
By the time of Robert ‘Bobby’ Lehman’s death in 1969, there is no Kaddish and no closure, as if in losing its Jewishness the firm has also lost its self-knowledge and is now just an international money machine. Without such humanity, or family sense of its own responsibility, a reckoning cannot be far away. The ensuing decades are dispatched in minutes. Internecine boardroom battles and self-immolation on the markets combine to mean destruction on the scale of those great Jewish empires and dynasties; a people who had wandered far from God indeed, and at a loss in the land of false idols. This could be a clumsy metaphor for secularization or miscegenation. It’s not, because the play is too sophisticated for such a simplistic reading. It asks many questions, and only hints at answers in outline without sliding into preach-or-curse rhetoric.
This is a play worth seeing. It’s an acting masterclass. The glass-box set revolves to give new corners and perspectives. Each act is announced with a projection onto the curtain, like early cinema, and there is a pianist in one corner of the stage who accompanies the action throughout with verve and skill. Much about it is novel whilst staying reassuringly conventional and familiar. It’s a triumph for Sam Mendes, and a whole very much greater than the sum of its parts. Good news: the play transfers in May 2019 to the Piccadilly Theatre. Like those prophets and patriarchs, it holds much to enjoy, and even more to heed.
In last month’s edition we reviewed the Anglo-Catholic History Society’s latest publication on Wentworth Watson. Copies of the booklet are available from the Secretary, 24 Cloudesley Square, London, N1 0H for £5 inclusive of postage.
Fortnum & Mason Christmas & Other Feasts
Tom Parker Bowles
4th Estate, RRP £30
There’s only a few ‘Christmas cookbooks’ I go back to regularly. Elizabeth David is a joy to read, and so sensible. More recently, Nigella Lawson has produced two excellent volumes: Feast has a very good Christmas and New Year section, which she then expanded into Nigella’s Christmas (mainly for the US market) and naturally to accompany a tv series. There are those who continue to swear by St Delia of Norwich, but personally her domestic science teacher manner always brings out the fearful schoolboy in me, at risk of reprimand for even the slightest deviation.
New out this year and straight onto the list is Fortnum & Mason: Christmas & Other Winter Feasts. Godson and stepson of the Prince of Wales, Tom Parker Bowles is essentially the ‘curator’ of this collection and has made a niche for himself in writing about food in the British Isles. His piece on Eggs Drumkilbo is certainly worth the internet search. Certainly this style of institutional book was set by the late great AA Gill when he immortalised the Ivy, Wolseley, and Le Caprice. You get a lot of homage to the place with apparent behind-the-scenes insight blending chat with reportage. But whereas Gill struck a note somewhere between Orwell and Anthony Bourdain, Parker Bowles is more Saturday supplement, which is no surprise considering his main association with Tatler and the Mail. His glossy if unshowy approach is perfectly matched here with a book about the Queen’s grocer and the trencherman fare of wintering England.
This book is certainly a treasure to behold: hardback covers in the store’s famous mint-green livery with gold blocking and a pair of caricature yeomen on the front to set the tone. Inside, the articles scattered throughout the chapters give a slightly breathless (but informative all the same) foray into things like Bonfire Night, Christmas Crackers, the famous hampers, leftovers and so on – meaning there’s something to read beyond the recipes themselves. What adds to the enjoyment is the use of cartoons and illustrations from Fortnum’s catalogues since the 1920s when Edward Bawden started to provide these witty and elegant images for the store’s merchandising literature. And with colour photographs of the recipes themselves, it all makes for a very handsome whole.
TPB’s selection is a comprehensive one. He runs his clock from Guy Fawkes through to January and Burns’ Night. It takes in all manner of hospitality, including party food and cocktails, with sensible soups and cleansing juices for January. The Christmas section is generally very good. The turkey recipe is a bit of a faff as it suggests having the legs taken off, boned, rolled around stuffing, wrapped, and cooked with the roasting crown. It’s surely delicious and worth doing, but demands time and a compliant butcher. It’s the goose recipe that really sings, alongside cavolo nero with dried cranberries. Curing your own salmon with mulled wine is great, as is making a soufflé with Christmas Pudding. Recipes for leftovers are superb and make for good reading. There’s pretty much something for everyone here, in fact, whether it’s game pasties, pheasant, venison with chocolate sauce, beef tea broth, kedgeree, ceviche… And there’s a sensible index, which not enough cookbooks have nowadays. It should prove a valuable resource for any kitchen bookshelf, particularly at this time of year, but also beyond. Most of all, it’s celebratory – of the feasts and season, of Fortnum & Mason, and of food.
Simon Walsh is a cookery columnist
on the Church Times and a priest in
the Diocese of London
Mulled Wine-Cured Salmon
Salmon, singing carols, and wearing a very Christmassy marinade. Remember, this recipe needs 48 hours’ preparation. The marinade may seem a little bold, but the spices are a lot more subtle than you’d think. Try to find farmed salmon which is organically certified, to avoid low stocking densities and ensure minimal use of chemicals.
& Fortnum’s Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Champagne is perfect with this salmon
500g salmon fillet, pin-boned
for the cure
75g sea salt
75g caster sugar
½ a lemon, thinly sliced
½ an orange, thinly sliced
for the mulled wine
1 bottle of red wine
juice and grated zest of 1 orange
juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
50g caster sugar
5g star anise
1 cinnamon stick
small loaf of soda bread, to serve
Mix the sea salt and sugar together. Sprinkle half the mixture in a dish just large enough to hold the salmon and put half the orange and lemon slices on top. Put the fish on top of that. Cover with the rest of the salt and sugar, then the remaining orange and lemon slices. Cover with cling film and place in the fridge for 24 hours, turning the salmon over once.
To make the mulled wine, put all the ingredients into a pan and bring slowly to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer until reduced by half, then strain and leave to cool.
Discard the star anise, cinnamon stick and cloves.
Rinse the salmon and pat dry. Wash the dish, return the salmon to it and pour over the cold mulled wine. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge to marinate for 24 hours, turning the salmon over about halfway through.
Remove the salmon from the mulled wine. Slice it thinly at an angle, like smoked salmon and serve with soda bread.
Roast Goose with Apple Sauce and Cavolo Nero
A whole roast goose is a glorious thing, but it does tend to lose a lot of weight in the oven. Still, that means lots of lovely goose fat in which to roast your potatoes. The spicing is Christmas to its core, with cloves, cinnamon, star anise and peppercorns, as warming as a crackling log fire. Try to use Bramley apples, or some other suitably sharp variety for the sauce, as you want it to cut a swathe through that rich goose flesh.
& to drink with the goose:
a bottle of Meursault
1 x 4.5–5kg goose
1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
8 black peppercorns
2 small oranges
a small bunch of thyme
3 tablespoons honey
for the apple sauce
4 Bramley apples, peeled, cored and chopped
50g caster sugar
a sprig of thyme
for the cavolo nero
4 heads of cavolo nero
40g dried cranberries, roughly chopped
Remove the giblets from the bird and take any excess fat out of the cavity. Prick the skin all over with a fork and place the goose on a rack over a roasting tin. Rub the bird all over with the spice mix. Scratch the oranges with a fork and stud them with the remaining cloves.
Place them in the cavity of the goose, along with the thyme and the remaining cinnamon stick, star anise and peppercorns.
Put the bird, breast side up, into an oven heated to 220°C/Gas Mark 7 and roast for half an hour, then reduce the temperature to 180°C/ Gas Mark 4 and cook for an hour. Remove the bird from the oven. (A lot of fat will have rendered – you could tip it into a bowl and set it aside for roasting potatoes.) Brush the goose all over with the honey and return it to the oven for half an hour at 160°C/Gas Mark 3, until nicely glazed. If you insert a skewer into the thickest part of the bird near the leg, the juices should run clear. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for at least half an hour, covered loosely with foil.
While the goose is resting, make the apple sauce. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan over a low heat, then cover and cook for 15–20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the apples are soft but still slightly chunky.
Remove from the heat and set aside.
Strip the stalks out of the cavolo nero and discard. Wash and roughly chop the leaves. Put the cranberries into a pan with the water and bring to the boil. Add the butter, followed by the cavolo nero, then cover and cook gently for 10–15 minutes, until tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Carve the goose and serve with the apple sauce and cavolo nero.
Christmas Pudding Souffles with Orange Ice Cream
This is an inspired way to use up any excess Christmas pudding. A dish that manages to be gloriously rich, but not stupefyingly so. It even converted me to the Christmas pudding cause. Delicious served with brandy snaps.
& these souffles are lovely with a glass of Fortnum’s Picolit wine, a cup of Royal Blend tea and brandy snaps
for the orange ice cream
300ml whole milk
300ml double cream
1 tablespoon vanilla paste
40g liquid glucose
zest and juice of 1 large orange
160g caster sugar
6 egg yolks (reserve the whites for later)
for the soufflé base
300g Christmas pudding, broken into pieces
30g caster sugar
to make the soufflés
4 egg whites
90g caster sugar
butter, softened, for greasing
To make the ice cream, heat the milk, double cream, vanilla, glucose, orange zest and juice in a saucepan, stirring regularly until the mixture is just under the boil.
Whisk the sugar and egg yolks together in a clean bowl. When the cream mixture is just starting to bubble, add a ladleful to the egg bowl and whisk to combine. Pour the egg mixture into the cream pan and turn the heat down to medium-low. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of the spoon.
Transfer the custard to a clean container and cover with cling film to prevent a skin from forming. When cool, freeze in your ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions, or place in a freezer- proof container and beat every 20 minutes to break up any lumps until it’s frozen to an even consistency (usually after 3–4 hours).
Place the Christmas pudding in a pan with the water. Cook over a medium heat, breaking the pieces of pudding apart with a wooden spoon. Once the pudding has broken down and all the pieces of fruit have come away from the dough, scrape the mixture into a food processor and blitz to a smooth paste. Return the mixture to the pan and heat over a medium heat. Once the pudding mixture is hot, add the sugar and cornflour and stir until the mixture has thickened and darkened. Keep warm over a low heat.
For the soufflés, beat the egg whites with an electric whisk with half the sugar until they form soft peaks, then add the remaining sugar and beat again until the mixture forms stiff peaks (it should hold its shape when you remove the whisk). Pour the warm Christmas pudding mixture into a clean bowl, and add a quarter of the egg white mixture. Beat to combine until no lumps are visible, then fold in the remaining
egg whites and continue to fold until everything is evenly distributed.
Divide the mixture between 6 buttered ramekins or soufflé moulds. Place the soufflés in an oven heated to 180°C/Gas Mark 4 and cook until they have doubled in size, but don’t quiver when you tap them in the middle. Serve immediately, with a scoop of ice cream on the side. They’ll be most impressive straight from the oven, as they start to sink after a couple of minutes.
Mad or God?
Pablo Martinez & Andrew Sims
Inter-Varsity Press 2018 £9.99
ISBN 978-1-78359-605-8 200pp
It is a delight to see psychiatry harnessed in the promotion of Christianity. This book shows that the Faith is far from a delusion which began with Jesus, but rather is founded in the health and sanity of the Son of God made flesh. Two Christian psychiatrists examine the Christ of the New Testament and provide a robust defence of his mental health and stability. Their inspiration came from the need to challenge those speaking of God and Christianity as delusional, as well as seeing an opportunity to use their professional skills to amplify the first part of C.S. Lewis’s famous trilemma. Lewis wrote: ‘A man who was merely a man and said the sort of thing Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says that he is a poached egg – or else he would be the devil of hell. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him or kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.’
In ‘Mad or God?’ we are brought close to Jesus as the Gospels describe him in a scientific study that has a warmth about it – Christian allegiance is evident – whilst facing head on allegations against him of mental impairment and psychosis. The meaning, trust, credibility, authority and loving relationship associated with Jesus Christ would evaporate if these allegations were substantiated. This book is incidentally a book of warm devotion to Jesus unpacking through its rational quest his character and consistency, transformative relationships, resilience in adversity and deep well-being. The authors’ conservative view on the ‘I am’ sayings in St John – Jesus said what is written – is at odds with many scholars and so was somewhat jarring to me, but it did not subtract from a powerfully constructive overall thesis.
As Bono said in an interview about his Christian faith it’s hard ‘to believe that a madman could have touched and inspired the lives of millions of people.’ Martinez and Sims demonstrate by contrast the powerful fascination Jesus exercises from the pages of Scripture, let alone in the sacramental life and fellowship of his Church. The foreword by Professor John Lennox describes the book as ‘an important contribution to the evidence that Jesus is, as he claimed to be, the incarnate Son of God.’ Lennox also summarises what I found to be the main achievement of this unique volume in which psychiatric insight serves to bring us close to Jesus so we ‘see the sheer wonder and balance of his personality, the lucidity, peace and tranquillity of his mind in the most adverse of circumstances. It becomes increasingly clear why and how he has become a source of mental peace and stability, freedom from neurosis and positive health and salvation from millions of people throughout history.’
The Christian West and Its Singers:
The First Thousand Years
Yale University Press, 2010
This is one of those books that doesn’t fall neatly into a category. It has elements of social history, musicology, liturgiology. We learn about the transmission of ideas in the age before the printing press and the monastic orders as a network that transcended kingdoms and empires. We are given fascinating insights into the Romanism of the northern European tribes and kingdoms, who saw Latinity as a marker of sophistication that could be acquired without subscribing to the Catholic religion of its homeland (one thinks a modern parallel might be the purchasing of ‘Englishness’ by East Asian cultures today). All of these insights, and many more, are woven around a erudite and readable history music in church in the first millennium.
The volume brims with transcribed primary sources so that the reader can see for themselves the point of detail that the author is making. There are plenty of colour photographs of manuscripts and other material too – this is by no means a drily academic presentation. The developing richness of the musical tradition of the early church is laid out for us in a comprehensive but accessible way. Two things become clear. First, that the ancient tradition of the church is of a sung liturgy and second that for a long period literacy (especially the ability to read) and the ability to sing were closely related. Later on, excellence at these skills together could frequently be a passport to high office, irrespective of social background.
Those who continue to promote the rediscovery and reinvigoration of the tradition of truly sacred music, as called for by Vatican II, will find in this volume a thorough understanding as to why that Council said that Gregorian chant … should be given pride of place in liturgical services; the chant is indivisible from the living liturgy of the Church. Any reader interested in history and music will find plenty of insights and fresh perspectives. Christopher Page is someone whose familiarity with his material is clearly deep, but is able to communicate his argument in a way that is very much accessible to the non-specialist. Nevertheless, I suspect this will be a standard history on the subject for a long tie to come.