National Gallery, until 5 October
It’s that time of the year — some call it the Silly Season — when a themed exhibition visits the Sunley Rooms of the National Gallery, after previously showing at Bristol’s City Museum and Art Gallery, and the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne. This is the seventh in a series of collaborative exhibitions organised by the NG in partnership with Bristol and Tyne & Wear Museums, and this year the selection of exhibits relies very heavily on the National’s collection, with only one work each borrowed from Bristol and Newcastle. Happily, there is no restriction to sourcing loans elsewhere, so the show does not lack variety and strength. If anything, its diversity makes the theme a tenuous cohesive device.
It troubles me that through wall-captions and the accompanying booklet the public is always directed to the way the works of art gathered here tell stories. There is almost nothing about different ways of seeing or how an image is made, and yet the story can only ever be a pretext for the making of a visual image. It’s as if our museums and their curators would rather forget about the aesthetic, formal and stylistic aspects of the works on display. They are indeed far more difficult to write about, and perhaps they think that it can safely be assumed that such discussion is over the head of the average gallery-goer. If so, I take issue. I think people want to look at pictures as visual images, and, though they are curious about narratives as well, they need encouragement to concentrate on colours and forms.
Nowhere can this be more obvious than in the opening to the exhibition. In the foyer to the Sunley Rooms is Tracey Emin’s ‘Those who Suffer Love (Im OK now)’.