From the Beautiful to the Bloody; Art Best of the Exhibitions

By Hensher, Philip | The Mail on Sunday (London, England), December 29, 2002 | Go to article overview
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From the Beautiful to the Bloody; Art Best of the Exhibitions


Hensher, Philip, The Mail on Sunday (London, England)


Byline: PHILIP HENSHER

The festive period is, for many people, a good opportunity to take in the exhibitions there somehow wasn't enough time to get to earlier in the year.

This season is terrific, with winning shows on several fronts. Anyone wanting to escape and do the cultural rounds before returning to the January grind will find half a dozen excellent surveys, ranging from familiar and famous artists to some rewarding rarities.

The queues will be long at the Royal Academy's amazing Aztecs show. It's a gigantic, lavish survey of an utterly exotic culture. The Aztecs' beliefs were inconceivably remote from ours and this is an exhibition which seems somehow soaked in blood.

A great deal of it is about the details of human sacrifice - the massively impressive statue of a god with his liver hanging out and other macabre artefacts will certainly amuse the eight-year-old boy in your family.

Me, I could see the fascination of it, but had to go and have a stiff drink afterwards. It was the statue of a man wearing a coat made out of flayed human skin that did it.

More sympathetic, and mysteriously absorbing, is a wonderful survey of the American abstract artist Barnett Newman at Tate Modern.

He is one of those artists who did the same thing over and over again and his work in the first place was incredibly simple - just variations of a vertical stripe on a blank background.

Yes, it does sound very much like the sort of thing anyone could do, but in reality everything he wanted to do could be reduced to these terms. The few paintings that don't work demonstrate how difficult it was to paint successfully within such narrow confines.

The exhibition is extraordinarily subtle in its effects and full of a surprising range of emotions. Give it time and it will grow on you.

Harder work, but just as rewarding, is D[cedilla]rer at the British Museum.

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