Magazine article The Spectator

Picture of Health

Magazine article The Spectator

Picture of Health

Article excerpt

The crowded hour I spent at The Spectator summer party was prefaced by nine convivial hours on the terrace of a pub at Liverpool Street station that ended with spontaneous community singing. The next morning I put on sunglasses and wobbled along to see the Münter exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery in the Strand.

Gabriele Münter was an early 20th-century German Expressionist and the lover for 15 years of Wassily Kandinsky. Both were members of the influential avantgarde group der Blaue Rater (the Blue Rider). That's what it says on the leaflet, anyway. Well, everything changes except the avant-garde, as they say, which is why I like it. It's only when I stand and stare at paintings that were once thought to be avant-garde, which isn't that often, and normally while waiting out a hangover, that I experience that homely illusion of permanence, continuity and the value of honest endeavour. So I took my poor aching nut and my paranoid anxieties and my lower-middle class urge to be more serious along to the Courtauld and stood in an 18th-century room and looked at Munter's early 20th-century pictures.

The only other Germanic Expressionist of the same period with whose work I am familiar is Adolf Hitler. And Munter's stuff, I'm ashamed to say, gave me the same odd sense I have when looking at Hitler's - of looking at nothing at all. But I persevered. I read the scrupulously value-free blurb beside each picture closely. I looked at the picture. I looked again in case there was anything I'd missed. I moved on to the next. Then, at 'Village Street in Winter 1911', I came over all queer. I was suddenly intolerably hot and felt like I was descending in a fast lift.

The Münter exhibition is in a bare, rectangular, windowless room. I had to get out of there. If I could choose, and the choice at the Courtauld is a rich one, I wanted my first heart attack to be amongst something other than German Expressionism. And if it had to be indoors, I wanted to have my cardiac arrest in a room with windows so I could look up and see the sky.

I tottered out, feeling the blood draining from my face. The first gallery I came to was mostly Kandinsky, and no bench to lie on and no window. I staggered on and blundered into a lavishly decorated room that was once the meeting room of the Royal Academy. …

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