Friday, 31 March 2017

Theatre night:Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere?

"Ash'ab yurid isqat al-nizam"

"Her yer Taksim. Her yer direnish."

On the sunniest, warmest day of the year so far it seemed foolhardy to go and sit in a theatre with no windows for two hours in the afternoon. I could've been sat in the park or in a beer garden. On my balcony at the very least.

But my friend Mark had kindly got me a free ticket to Paul Mason's play (based on his book of the same title) Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere? at the Young Vic on The Cut near Waterloo. They were doing an afternoon run through before filming it, later that evening, to go out on TV in May and needed an audience who'd they'd tempted in with offers of free drinks vouchers. The premise sounded interesting enough for them not to have done that but the promise of an 'immersive' experience was one that struck fear into my heart. It's not that I mind joining in with things but I don't like feeling I HAVE to join in with things.

I needn't have worried. The immersive parts were both minimal and optional and, in fact, the toughest bit was sitting on a hard stage for two hours. My bum was sore and my legs were stiff at the end of the play (you can write your own punchlines there). The premise, back to that, was a timeline, of sorts, from the Arab Spring in 2011 up to the election of Trump in America last year. How did something that started off as a global revolution of the disenfranchised end up being co-opted by the very elite forces it was supposed to overthrow? Did the likes of Trump and the Vote Leave campaign hoodwink people, steal their ideas, and then use them to further their own agendas? Well, of course they fucking did but putting a narrative on to that and telling that story in a different, but still interesting way, was the challenge facing Mason and his cast.


I've had reservations about Paul Mason in the past. Whilst the idea of the globetrotting reporter turned revolutionary is undoubtedly appealing I do sometimes wonder if the provocateur guise he's currently operating under is simply that - a guise. He's obviously a highly intelligent, well-read, and passionate chap but is his fervour for revolution, at the expense of evolution, itself playing into the hands of those he seeks to expose, discredit, and, ultimately, destroy? I wasn't sure. So the play would perhaps, at the very least, help me make my mind up about Mason.


I certainly came away feeling more positive about him than I went in. I liked how he gave both his cast and audience members (in a Q&A at the end) plenty of time to speak, to formulate, and to express their own opinions. He also, and this is very important, listened to what they said, didn't belittle their points (even when they were a little daft), and took time to answer their questions in a non-patronising manner.

The narrative of the play could be debated but it had to have a narrative and nobody could hope to include every aspect of such a huge story in 120 minutes. So we went from the overthrow of Ben Ali in Tunisia to uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Syria, and the rest of the Arab Spring. Via detours to Spain and, bizarrely, anti-tax protests in Madison, Wisconsin we arrived back in the Levant for a look at Erdogan's crushing of dissent in Gezi Park and Greece's monetary problems, election of Syriza, and the subsequent fallout when austerity measures didn't stop but hit harder. The Occupy movement, for all their many faults, cropped up at regular intervals and towards the end a shadowy figure appeared to suggest it was all over for the revolutionaries. You all know who that man is and his shadow may haunt generations to come.




That's obviously a very brief overview of what happened in the play but if you've watched the news, read a paper, or been on social media in the last six years you don't need me to go over it again. There are better qualified people (Paul Mason for one) and if you've not taken an interest yet you're unlikely to be reading this blog anyway.

The style employed veered dangerously close to a sixth form debating group without ever becoming unprofessional. Us, the audience, sat around occasionally joining in with the chanting (the two quotes that top this piece translate from Arabic to "The people demand the fall of the regime" and from Turkish to "Everywhere Taksim. Everywhere resistance", while the cast (each playing various characters of various nationalities and speaking various languages) told the story from the point of view of those who'd lived through it, who ARE living through it. From Greek farmers to Occupy protestors via Besiktas football hooligans and those involved in Egypt's Tahrir Square protests.


This was interspersed with video footage, both real and created for the show, and Mason's sometimes dry, sometimes provocative, narration and editorial content. He wasn't an impartial narrator but neither should he have been. He'd made clear that he'd already covered these events as a journalist and now he was looking at them from a different angle. The journalists, he said, wrote the first drafts of history. The playwrights the second. That he gets to wear both hats is credit, surely, to his work ethic.

He certainly had his cast put in a shift. Khalid Abdalla (decked out in the almost obligatory protestor's shemagh for much of the action) was as impassioned in the Q&A afterwards as his many characters were during the play whilst Sirine Saba and Lara Sawalha (cousin of Julia & Nadia) took responsibility for a lot of the heavy lifting by providing much of the exposition whilst also having to make lighting quick costume changes.

Hannah Arendt, who was quoted along with Bertolt Brecht in the play, said "Revolutionaries do not make revolutions. The revolutionaries are those who know when power is lying in the street and then they can pick it up". This was the open question left hanging at the end of the play. Have Trump, Farage (and, maybe but hopefully not, Le Pen) picked up the momentum provided by the original protestors or does that still reside within those who want a better, fairer world?

For all that these 'populists' have appropriated people's ill feeling towards a self-serving establishment there is still a huge groundswell of support for progressive, inclusive change that seeks to make the world a better place for everyone and not to divide and conquer, not to shift blame to those who are the least blameless and exculpate the very bankers, corporate money men, and bent politicians that led us into this mess in the first place. The pendulum may have swung firmly in the wrong direction at the moment but with planning, co-operation, and positivity it will, one day, swing back. This was only a small play, only a couple of hours in a small room in Lambeth (it might've played out very differently in Stoke-on-Trent), but it was a step in the right direction. For making that step, and for giving us undoubted food for thought, I salute Paul Mason.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

John Bock'n'Hollenglocken.

A man licking an egg, treadle powered dentistry, tongues being cut off, a bug squirming around in some Aquafresh 3 toothpaste, and a man with his cock tucked in between his legs like a teenage boy pretending to be girl. All of this and more and yet despite, or maybe because of, this John Bock's 90 minute art film Hell's Bells was really rather boring.

I watched it so you don't have to and, despite struggling to keep my eyes open at times, I lasted to the very end which is more than can be said for any other person at the screening (at Sadie Coles HQ, Kingly Street) I attended.

It had all started so promisingly as well. The large room stuffed full of props (that would later appear in the film) and layed out in a labyrinthine style was fun, and atmospheric, to wander around. Well lit too.

Blankets demarcated the various 'rooms' and pullovers hung from the ceiling interacting with sculptures made of such unlikely, if evocative, materials, as fur, lace, playing cards, cigarettes, eggs, earbuds, fake blood, dried fruit, bone, and antlers. Like Helen Marten's work I had no idea what it all meant but it looked good. As you can see:-

 
Black monochrome in showdown
 

 
The coffin 21 gram
 

 
See what happens when you fuck a stranger up the ass
 

 
Skat chess
 

 
Painful sweet face
 

 
Miss Musa
 

 
The coffin 21 gram (detail)
 

Pleasant enough as this was the main course, the film itself, Hell's Bells, was way too long and way too pretentious to hold my, or anyone else's it seems, attention. I've said before that if you're a truly good video artist then make films. Like Steve McQueen does.

I don't think Bock's got it in him. The story, what little there purports to be, features the arrival of a stranger (played by Bibiana Beglau) and a deaf child in a very unrealistic looking, and German speaking, Wild West town. Like an Alton Towers shooting range transplanted to Tombstone-by-the-Rhine or something.

There's a tortured priest (well, of course there is), a bordello full of seemingly drugged up nymphs, and a flamboyant jester-cum-villain played by Lars Eidinger (recently seen both in Personal Shopper and SS-GB) who hams it up with just the right amount of disregard for any flimsy screenplay he may or may not have been given.

The deaf child is supposed to be the centre of the piece and, somehow, we're supposed to believe that all the violence, and even a little retribution, stems from something within her. But it's simply not done well enough to care so when someone dies or pulls a bullet from their flesh you find yourself simply checking the time and wondering what you might have for tea later. Surely not Bock's intention.

All the talk of bodily fluids and the extreme close up of a flaccid wrinkled penis served only to underwrite the sixth form nature of this project. But a sixth form project writ large and underscored with a serious budget.

On the day that Theresa May triggered Article 50 I'd felt good that I was supporting the work of a fellow EU national. John Bock, however, gave little but fart noises and mock shock in return. Maybe it's all us Brits deserve. Bollocks zu Hollenglocken, balls to Hell's Bells, and big hairy bollocks to Brexit.





Growing pains.

"We have a profound responsibility to the fragile web of life on this earth, and to this generation and those that will follow" - Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General.

As Donald Trump signs an executive order to scrap Obama era climate change regulations and Theresa May triggers Article 50 to bring about a long, and highly worrying, period of isolationism for the UK it is abundantly apparent to anyone except the most short-term careerist politicians that, whatever you think about nationalism or patriotism, the planet has a finite amount of resources and if we find a way to share them they'll last longer than if we pursue selfish, protectionist policies and end up squabbling over them.

So Somerset House's Grow/Conserve photography exhibition (officially the Syngenta Photography Award Exhibition) was timely. In more ways than one. Somerset House is a beautiful Neoclassical building and, having been fortunate to visit on a sunny day, the fountains were on the courtyard. I even had an ice cream. What with the friendly staff (including the lady who surveyed me on my departure) and free brochure available to visitors my mood was good on entering. It was still good on exiting but you'd have to be of very hard heart not to be at least a little angry about the damage we're doing to our planet, our only home.

Syngenta AG is a huge Swiss agribusiness that claims to use science and innovative crop solutions to help rescue land from degradation and revitalize rural communities but they've had problems with the Landless Workers' Movement in Brazil so, perhaps, this was a chance to offset that. I don't know. That's too complicated to go in to here. Regarding the exhibition alone they'd done a good job.

The exhibition was broken up into two parts. The first was a selection of the winning, and other podium placed, photographers. The second, and better, half was compartmentalised further into rather dry sounding rooms with names like Sustainable Development, Culture and Community, Rethinking Resources, and Health and Wellbeing. Despite this the photos themselves worked a treat and did a sterling job in conveying the message of the exhibition.

 
Eric Tomberlin - The Garden of Earthly Delights (2010)
 
Eric Tomberlin's homage to Hieronymus Bosch was a bit of an outlier, utilising studio trickery to create an image of an overcrowded metropolis, but it was certainly eye catching. Perhaps more so than Yan Wang Preston's series of Chongqing based photographs that, nevertheless, scooped first prize in the 'Professional Commission' competition.
 
The British-Chinese artist claims to be interested in how landscape photography can challenge myths and reveal hidden complexities behind the surface. To make their environments more suitable for living many expanding Chinese cities, like Chongqing, are buying already mature trees and, instead of growing, are 'building' forests. Tree dealing has become a boom industry yet, perhaps predictably, many of these trees struggle to survive within the urban environments they've been placed in.
 
Preston's photos show these displaced, odd looking, trees trying to adapt, and being helped, to their new homes in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. It certainly touches on the themes of both growth and conservation that the judges, an international bunch, were looking for.
 

 
Yan Wang Preston - Forest 7 (2011)
 

 
Yan Wang Preston - Forest 5 (2011)
 
She's beaten Lucas Foglia into second place. Lucas is still in his thirties so there's plenty of time for him to have another go. His collection, Frontcountry, portrays those who live in some of the American West's least populated regions. He didn't find life there as harsh as he'd expected (it was easy for people to get a job) but it was more nomadic than he'd imagined. When a mine closes the land becomes scarred, the company moves on, and the workers follow.
 
While life may not be so tough on the folks living there the animals fared worse. The dog seems ok, the horses not too bad, but for the poor cow things aren't gonna end well.

 

 
Lucas Foglia - Casey and Rowdy horse training, 71 Ranch, Deeth, Nevada (2012)
 

 
Lucas Foglia - Adam killing a cow, Mortenson family farm, Afton, Wyoming (2010)
 

 
Claudia Jaguararibe - Mata Atlantica, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2010-2014)
 
Claudia Jaguararibe (bronze in this contest) from Sao Paulo has made beautiful photographs that I didn't fully understand. She's based her work on Brazil's long tradition of artists and scientists working together. Agrobusiness is one of the most important economic growth factors in Brazil and, Jaguararibe thought, the Mata Grosso region, due to belonging to major industries, had not been sufficiently documented. Her attempts to do so, and in some ways preserve a part of its history, have to be viewed as only a qualified success.
 
3rd place in the 'Open Competition' went to Robin Friend, an Australian-British photographer based here in London, who uses his camera to capture the problematic relationship between humans and nature. That comes, often, in the form of junk. The hope is that his series, Bastard Countryside, helps persuade society to move away from its attitude of disposability. Pictures of crushed up cars, and other detritus, certainly force home the message with some eloquence. Yet I find litterbugs and fly-tippers don't seem to see themselves as the problem. It's always 'the others'.
 

 
Robin Friend - VW Graveyard, Chudleigh (2005)
 

 
Kenneth O'Halloran - Ouedrago Baba, age 45, in the village of Sika, Kongousi District, Burkina Faso (2015)
 
Matthew Hamon's conceptual images of post-rural Montanan meat processing struck silver in this category. His photos of animal hunting and torture didn't do a lot for me so I could see why Kenneth O'Halloran beat him to the prize. The Dublin based snapper took a steady eye to subsistence farming in sub-Saharan Africa and, even though his subject has turned away from the camera, he's been imbued with a dignity that not all of those involved in what is, essentially, ethnographic work provide.
 
Life in rural Burkina Faso is, clearly, a far cry from the huge metropolises many of us now call home. Every second two more people become city dwellers. That means each year 77,000,000 move from rural to urban areas. Over half of the world is now domiciled in a city. Urban sprawl, and population boom (from 1.6 billion to 6.1 billion in the 20th century), has displaced vast areas of farmland and created polluted air and huge slums. Yet these huge cities have also helped millions escape poverty. The challenge, of course, is to build liveable cities that exist in harmony with rural communities.
 
It's unclear exactly what the photos of Richard Allenby-Pratt and Ryan Koopmans say about that but they certainly help to give a small idea of the huge scale of city life today.

 

 
Richard Allenby-Pratt - Zebra, Dubai (2010)
 

 
Ryan Koopmans - Water Green Boulevard, Astana, Kazakhstan (2011)
 

 
Ryan Koopmans - Interchange, Shanghai, China, (2011)
 
One death in every nine is now attributed to air pollution and the linemen in Probal Rashid's terrifying, if fascinating, study of life in Dhaka look to be more susceptible to this than most. Rajendra Mohan Pandey shows a different aspect of subcontinental city living. His use of chiaroscuro something Caravaggio would surely be proud of. It's a wonderful picture and, following the geographical studies of Koopmans, reminds us that, despite their sizes, cities are made up of, and belong to (or should do), the people that live in them.
 

 
Probal Rashid - Life and Lines, Dhaka, Bangladesh (2014)
 

 
Rajendra Mohan Pandey - Living together, Kolkata (2014)
 

 
Toby Smith - Saadigat Island, UAE, February 14th (2016)
 
My very favourite photos in the exhibition are in the room marked 'Conflict and Climate Change'. Here both the beauty, and the cruelty, of humanity and nature are exposed in their starkest forms. The young Bangladeshi girl who stares out at us in Kim Asad's Cost of Climate Change didn't ask to live in an era of forced migration. The Persian lovers embracing in the desert with, seemingly, all their belongings yet nowhere to live didn't want to be displaced from their home by wars, persecution, and weather disasters brought on by the greed of others (and stupid medieval religions).
 
An average minute sees 84 people leave their homeland to head for another country. Roughly two thirds displaced by flooding or droughts and the remaining third by conflict. Whilst Rupert Murdoch pays vile columnists to suggest we could simply shoot these people dead most of us realise that a more humane, compassionate approach is needed and it could begin, quite simply, by not driving everyfuckingwhere. 
 

 
Kim Asad - Cost of Climate Change, Bangladesh (2016)
 

 
Gohar Dashti - Untitled, Stateless Series, Iran (2014-2015)
 

 
Gohar Dashti - Untitled, Stateless Series, Iran (2014-2015)
 

More than 10% of the planet's population will go to bed hungry tonight yet many countries, including some developing ones, face an obesity epidemic. We need to look not just at how we grow food but how we consume it. I eat a lot of crap so I'm lecturing myself here as much as you.
 
Guilhem Alandry's wonderfully lit photo of aubergine farming in Bangladesh makes quite a contrast with Tommy Fung's shot of the Hong Kong/Shenzhen border though that picture tells of a contrast itself. The green fields south of the river are in Hong Kong. The built up city north is Shenzhen. You can see how different policies affect the environment as starkly here as anywhere.
 


 
Guilhem Alandry - Brinjal in Bangladesh (2015)
 

 
Tommy Fung - Untitled, Hong Kong and Shenzhen (2013)
 
Despite our planet having an abundance of both water and energy 40% of the global population is threatened by water scarcity and billions go without electricity or clean cooking fuels. We have the resources to solve the problems but we need to look at how to harness them.
 
Sadly, as the current vogue for populism and demagogues continues, and everyone starts bitching and infighting we seem even less likely to address these issues in the foreseeable future and, as things get worse, and more areas are affected, and more people become displaced, the grubby opportunists of the far right will continue to have a steady supply of scapegoats to further their insidious agenda.
 
It was a beautiful, if painful to think about, exhibition. In that respect it was very much like the world we're living in now. Apposite.
 

 
Peter Essick - Amish Farmer, Oxford, Pennsylvania (2011)
 

 
Temitope Olanuyi - Ojongbode Area, Oyo, Oyo State, Nigeria (2016)


Thursday, 23 March 2017

AGD and the Art of France.

Andrew Graham Dixon was back with another one of his comprehensive overviews of art history. I've always enjoyed his shows and this was no different. His subject was The Art of France. A pretty big one but he managed to do it ample justice.

He begins in the Valley of the Dordogne. It looks like paradise. A cut away to a problematic Parisian suburb looks less so. Economic problems and terrorist concerns plague the capital these days. These are the two different faces of France and AGD, aas he shall be known from hereon in, shows us that it has, in fact, always been thus.

In that same suburb of Paris, Saint-Denis, there sits a basilica. The appropriately named Basilica of St Denis is a gothic crypt offering a final resting place to several French monarchs and it sits in the heart of one of France's most multicultural regions. A statue of Marie Antoinette, herself an immigrant, stands testament to a history of violent change.

We jump back a millennium, almost, to the invention of Gothic architecture which began with the Basilica of St Denis, the brainchild of one Abbot Suger under whose patronage elements of Islamic architecture were fused with Norman and Burgundian techniques and styles. There were painted arches, high ceilings, and the building was full of 'sacred' light. Suger said "the dull mind rises to the truth through material things".

AGD's personal favourite Gothic site in Paris is the Sainte-Chapelle. It was designed to house "the most precious thing in the world". That being the crown of thorns that Louis IX had gotten hold of and placed, with great ceremony, barefoot on Saint-Chapelle's altar. In doing this he had made France the centre of the Christian world.


Sainte-Chapelle


From 1337 to 1453 the Hundred Years' War raged. There was pestilence. There was famine. There was death. France was politically fractured and culturally uncertain. In Italy the Renaissance provided some of the greatest artists ever to live but between 1450 and 1600 France produced not one single painter of note. The troops of Louis XII didn't help. They went round destroying art. Even a Leonardo in Milan wasn't spared their vandalism.

The Renaissance did provide France with a philosopher though. Michel de Montaigne appeared in the 16th century. At a time when Catholics were massacring Protestants Montaigne's open mind was a great step forward. He was France's first 'free thinker' and set in motion a respect for philosophy that continues until this day.

He wrote essasys on subjects as wide ranging as friendship, loyalty, Siamese twins, and even thumbs! He said "I am a man and nothing human is alien to me". He understood, and was able to articulate, how frail our humanity is and how precious it was that we try and hang on to it.

As ever louder, more bellicose, voices, won out. During the 17th century more than 8,000,000 people (more than a quarter of Europe's entire population at the time) were killed during the Thirty Years' War, the deadliest ever European religious war. Jacques Callot's bleak prints of lynching predated Goya's similar, and more well known, work by two centuries.

Jacques Callot - Miseries of War

Though Callot's place in history has been underwritten the same can not be said for Poussin. He'd spent most of his career in Rome and, perhaps because of this, was the first French painter to really get the Renaissance. His paintings were reflections on life in much the same way Montaigne's essays were. Poussin's Arcadia has a Latin inscription that translates as "I too am in paradise" but paradise, here, meant death. Poussin was saying loudly and proudly that we're all going to die.


Nicolas Poussin - Arcadia

It's not certain if Louis XIV, The Sun King, thought himself so powerful he could cheat death but he did believe he could bend history to his will and make France the actual, rather than symbolic, centre of the world. He lived in Versailles, the largest palace ever created by a European monarch. The palace said, even if Louis himself didn't "L'etat, c'est moi" ("I am the state"). He held the masses in such contempt that servants weren't permitted to die on the grounds of Versailles in case they polluted the realm. A paranoid megalomaniac living in gilded luxury. Remind you of anyone?

Venice was the only place that made mirrors at the time so Louis XIV simply offered the Venetians more money to come and make them for him. Him, and his Minister of Finance Jean-Baptiste Colbert, were using protectionism and duplicitous business practices to enrich themselves. Again - remind you of anyone?

Artists, playwrights, and poets were given so many rules to obey that they, essentially, became prisoners of the system. Charles Le Brun was tasked with setting the standards and decided upon a hierarchy which put history painting, which he practiced, at the top. The secret in portraying the human face, he was sure due to an incorrect understanding of how the pineal gland works, was in the eyebrows. His 1665 Entry of Alexander into Babylon was huge. Twelve metres wide. Royal patronage had gone straight to his head.


Charles Le Brun - Entry of Alexander into Babylon

When Louis XIV died in 1715 he left France politically powerful but internally divided. Rich v poor. Watteau's enigmatic Pierrot, though looking very dated to our modern eyes, announced that times were changing. It wasn't the sort of thing Le Brun would've approved of. It was closer to Montaigne's elusive school of thought. The 'dictator' had gone. There was a void. All of France was as confused as Watteau's Pierrot. Both it, and France herself, seemed to be saying 'what now?'.


Jean-Antoine Watteau - Pierrot

Watteau was the love after Louis XIV's war. Rococo appeared. Boucher had been to Le Brun's academy and, like Poussin, studied in Rome. His pictures of Diana seemed to be designed more for private contemplation (cough!) than for imperial bombast. Madame de Pompadour, a big patron of the arts and the official mistress (so French) of Louis XV, approved.


Francois Boucher - Diana leaving the bath.

The Francophone Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a thornier character. He railed against the French attachment to material things and argued for the primacy of nature and the inner child and even against civilization itself. About the same time the first modern encylopedias arrived and were, predictably, fiercely criticised by the church who always prefer an unquestioning populace.

Roussea contributed as did both Voltaire and editor-in-chief Diderot. None of them were keen on established or inherited authority. There wasn't just one Montaigne in France now. There were loads of them. The anatomical illustrations inside the encyclopedias were beautiful if somewhat morbid and may've pushed Diderot into his next venture.

After two decades he moved into art criticism becoming one of the first ever art critics. Under Louis XV's reign the doors of the Salon at the Louvre were thrown open to the general public and Diderot's art criticism became social commentary. There's still some chancers writing blogs in this vein today. Diderot rallied against the decadence of Boucher and, in doing so, was critical of the entire Ancien regime. Diderot's hero was Chardin (one of the first artists I ever saw an exhibition of) whose quiet, low key, small scale, oil paintings depicted eggs, grapes, wine, and pots!

AGD boldly, though probably correctly, claims Cezanne, and later Cubism, sprang from Chardin. Chardin painted both what things looked like and what, to him, the world itself looked like. Proust likened his 1728 Ray to "the nave of  a polychromatic cathedral", an echo of Suger's Basilica of St Denis. Chardin, like Diderot, opted to live a simple life. They saw a well lived virtuous life as being better than one filled with wealth and luxury. A mild mannered man Chardin said "you use colours but you paint with feeling".


Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin - Still life with a basket of peaches, white and black grapes


Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin - The Ray

Under Louis XVI France was facing bankruptcy. He knew but he did nothing about it. Jacques-Louis David has been commissioned by the king to make Roman allegorical paintings instructing, coercing even, his citizens to loyalty. The Lictors Bring to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons was perhaps not what he had in mind. Brutus had done his duty but his body is knotted in agony and the basket full of sewing hints at a home, or a country, ripped apart.


Jacques-Louis David - The Lictors bring to Brutus the Bodies of his Sons

David was conflicted. Within weeks the Bastille had been strormed and by July 1789 there was no more aristocratic power, no more monarchy, and no more Catholic church. Under Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, David, the reluctant propagandist, had become a revolutionary painter.

The tricolor was raised. There was a new calendar. There was new architecture. AGD visits the Pantheon, turned by revolutionaries from a church to a secular sepulchral temple to humanity. Yay. Rosseau and Voltaire were dug up and reinterred there but the revolution splintered into factions and David, himself, had become an extremist backing the guillotining of his former patron Louis XVI in la Place de la Revolucion.

Under the Terror hundreds of people, many of them earlier supporters of the Revolution, went to their deaths. AGD warns us, in the age of Brexit, Trump, and Le Pen, that all revolutions, eventually, eat their own children. David's The Death of Marat shows the terror in microcosm. Marat was a violent man murdered by a young woman who could no longer bear his tyranny. He was an ugly leper who spent all day in the bath wearing a vinegar soaked turban. David made this encapsulation of terror in human form a new Christ to rank alongside Michelangelo's Pieta. Marat was martyred but the killing went on.


Jacques-Louis David - The Death of Marat


Nicolas-Antoine Taunay - The Triumph of the Guillotine in Hell

Black flags similar to those of ISIS appeared. Stray dogs lapped up the rivers of blood that ran though the streets of Paris. There were rumours of cannibalism. David's portraits of the time are particularly disturbing. He was thrown into prison and only escaped the guillotine when a demagogue stepped in.

That man was Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon established the second great rule of revolution. Turn its energies elsewhere. Find new enemies to fight. AGD has a go with ol' Boney's bicorn hat and spyglass but really, like so many populist leaders, he was not a man to be admired. He stole art and antiquities from Venice, a Venice that'd enjoyed its independence for over one thousand years until Napoleon's army marched in and conquered it.

Napoleon, now the most powerful man in the world, was liberating art from religion and the past. He renamed the Louvre after himself and made an exhibition (literally) of himself too. David's Napeoleon at the St Bernard Pass is asking us to see the noble horse as the French people and that they're being taken for a ride by the short-arse on their back. It was a call to arms as much as anything else.


Jacques-Louis David - Napoleon at the St Bernard Pass

Napoleon was obsessed with Egypt which he, of course, invaded. It was as if he was starting to see himself as an actual pharaoh. The Egyptian prints that were made at the time are now in the Sorbonne. The excavations carried out acted as an early form of archaeology. David was too old to join the Egyptian camp but his student, Antoine-Jean Gros was not.

Napoleon wanted glorifying but did Gros do that? Like David had once been Gros was conflicted and was seeing both heaven and hell in the world he lived in. In 1804 Napoleon, in Notre Dame, crowned himself Emperor. He was no longer just the most powerful man in the world but the most powerful man who had ever lived.


Antoine-Jean Gros - Napoleon in the Pesthouse at Jaffa

Ingres, like many others, was equally attracted and repulsed by Napoleon. Napoleon on the Imperial Throne waves around symbols of powers like a pair of morons in a gold plated lift. Napoleon had the face of a giant baby but a giant baby with a God complex. I ask for the last time. Does this remind you of anyone?


Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres - Napoleon on the Imperial Throne

The painting was despised and rejected possibly because it spoke the truth and Napoleon, like so many demagogues, was no fan of truth. Also like so many demagogues Napoleon was eventually defeated. First in the frozen wastes of Russia and then, as any Abba fan knows, in Waterloo. Again a void followed a dictatorship and France was fucked once more. They'd stupidly been taken in by a violent, self-obsessed, thin-skinned lunatic who cared only about himself. Some would say they got what they deserved.

The monarchy was back in the form of Louis XVIII. Gericault's Raft of the Medusa helped usher in the Romantic era. It depicts a moment from the aftermath of the wreck of the French naval frigate Medusa which ran aground off the coast of today's Mauritania in July 1816. All but 15 of the 147 people on board died and many, if not all, of the survivors kept alive by practicing cannibalism. Was it the ship, or France herself, though that Gericault was saying was lost at sea?


Theodore Gericault - Raft of the Medusa

Gericault died of 'consumption' aged just 32 but the Romantic movement prospered. The poet Baudelaire haughtily intoned "Everything is me and I am everything". Delacroix's work was either despondent or frenzied. What a violent picture the Death of Sardanapalus is. Despite having written about it before I hadn't realised. It goes to show the benefit of revisiting works as we age. Great art changes as we do.


Eugene Delacroix - Barque of Dante


Eugene Delacroix - The Death of Sardanapalus


Eugene Delacroix - Liberty leading the People


Paul Delaroche - The Artists of all Ages

Liberty leading the People was a rare image of hope from Delacroix. Paul Delaroche's Artists of All Ages looks back to ancient Greece and yet forward to modern Paris at the same time. It's a veritable roll call of Greek heroes. Yet, as this Romanticism prospered, in 1861 French art split as never before and Ingres, at the venerable age of 82, was the unlikely source of this split. His lesbian, tit-filled, Turkish Bath would come to be regarded as a masterpiece by no less an artist than Picasso himself. It was a break from tradition.


Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres - Turkish Bath

Ingres was a classicist at heart but it was Baudelaire's 'me me me' individualism that won out. Baudelaire decreed, as seems to have been his wont, that painters should leave their studios and enter the city in search of modernity no matter how ugly it may be.

Manet shocked his audience with his boldness but Courbet went further still. Courbet dared to think the unthinkable and paint the unpaintable. He was not afraid of, in fact he savoured, shocking people and in L'origine du Monde he showed us that we didn't come from clouds, water, or religion. We came from vaginas and to prove it he painted a hairy fanny - and quite a nice one at that.


Edouard Manet - Music in the Tuileris


Gustave Courbet - L'origine du Monde

Born from the impressive cultural vagina of Paris was the greatest art development since the Renaissance. The programme makers list a few of the big names, Picasso, Dali, Monet, Matisse, Degas, as The Cure's Pictures of You plays. It's getting like an indie disco as the next track up is The Jam's This is the Modern World which gives AGD a chance to talk about the industrialisation of Paris and the accompanying hookers and rivers of booze.

Outsider artists were sick of classical Salon approved art. They wanted to paint modernity. In 1874 Cezanne, Degas, Monet, Pissarro, and Renoir (along with some others history's been less kind to) showed their works at the Boulevard Capucin. The month long show was a flop but out of it came the name Impressionism. Named after Monet's Impression:Sunrise painted at his home in Le Havre.


Camille Pissarro - Boulevard at Montmartre


Edouard Manet - The Gare St Lazare


Pierre-August Renoir - Gust of Wind


Claude Monet - Poppies

Inspired by Claude Lorrain it took him just 46 minutes to complete. Baudelaire's The Painter of Modern Life had become a manifesto of sorts for these new upstarts and, accordingly, Monet had replaced Claude's classical elements with factories and gantries. Wonderful, and iconic, painting followed wonderful, and iconic, painting.

Degas' Absinthe shows two drunks. They're nominally together but really quite alone. From our perspective ballet is a high, and noble, art but in those days ballet dancers were called the 'rats' of the opera. Degas' ballerinas imbued them with a dignity society was not. This Impressionist group was loose, though, and comprised of very different people. Degas and Monet didn't have a lot in common. Degas even going as far as to say all plein air painters should be shot.


Edouard Manet - Absinthe Drinkers


Claude Monet - Cliffs at Etretat


Claude Monet - Manneporte

Monet looked towards Turner, Chinese scrolls, and Japanese prints for inspiration. Berthe Morisot (a woman artist was still very rare at the time) celebrated the ordinary, if somewhat bourgeois, materials of life. At The Ball shows the vulnerability and sadness often experienced in these stratified echelons of society. I can imagine Drake or The Weeknd empathising.


Berthe Morisot - Children with a Bowl


Berthe Morisot - At the Ball

In 1889, the same year the Eiffel Tower went up, the Moulin Rouge opened. You'll not be surprised to learn which of these attractions became of most interest to the artists of the time. To the strains of Je Ne Regrette Rien we get to see lots of boobs and quite a few erect cocks as well. Oh, and Offenbach's Can Can. Toulouse-Lautrec became pretty much the house artist at the Moulin Rouge.


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - Lautrec, at the Moulin Rouge


Georges Seurat - Eiffel Tower

The Post-Impressionists, Seurat and Gauguin, appeared in the wake of Impressionism. They also produced their fair share of iconic and beautiful work. AGD considered them to convey 'profound alienation'. Cezanne, the most influential of all, and later praised by Picasso for his anxiety, painted murder and rape. But this was too easy. He claimed he wanted to shock Paris with an apple. What he was saying was it wasn't the subject matter that should be shocking but the work itself. It should be HOW he paints not WHAT he paints that the viewer is looking at.


Georges Seurat - Bathers at Asniere


Paul Gauguin - Fruit Harvest


Paul Gauguin - Her name is Vairumati


Paul Gauguin - Are you jealous?


Paul Cezanne - Avenue of Chestnut Trees

Nothing we see in Cezanne's hugely important work is still. That's because we are never still. Cezanne wanted to show us things from all angles at the same time. It was Cubism in all but name. When Picasso arrived in Paris he took the ball from Cezanne, and Gauguin and Matisse too, and ran with it. He ran harder and faster than anyone else in the whole of the 20th century.


Paul Cezanne - The Murder


Paul Cezanne - The Rape


Paul Cezanne - Apples and Oranges


Paul Cezanne - Bathers


Paul Cezanne - Mont-Sante Victoire


Pablo Picasso - Au Lapin Agile

Cubism now had its name and Picasso, along with Georges Braque, was the poster boy for it. Matisse, who enjoyed a love-hate relationship with Picasso, was forging ahead in another direction. He was taking his cues from the same places but what Picasso was doing for line Matisse was doing for colour. This would come to be known as Fauvism.


Pablo Picasso - Three Women


Pablo Picasso - Les Demoiselles d'Avignon


Pablo Picasso - Bottle of Pernod


Pablo Picasso - Guitar and Violin


Henri Matisse - The Dessert:Harmony in Red


Henri Matisse - Goldfish


Henri Matisse - Pink Studio

When World War I broke out La Belle Epoque was over. Initially Monet's Water Lilies seems an odd response. Was he so secluded from events that he didn't care? Au contraire. He cared deeply. He painted them as 'a space of tranquillity, a refuge' in the hope of helping to cleanse the troubled souls of men who'd seen more than men ever should. When he died he left them to the nation. Monet was perhaps the first of the French artists to really get Turner, really understand what he was trying to do.


Claude Monet - Water Lilies

Not all artists responded to the horrors of war with such grace. The surrealists rejoiced in the macabre. Dali, Man Ray, and Magritte had sex and death very high up on their agendas. Even Picasso painted murderous scenes but Picasso, as ever one step ahead of the game, knew that he had to escape the dark misogynistic fantasies that were becoming lingua franca in the Paris art world. He had to forge ahead with something bolder and better. With works like the sun drenched Figure at the Seaside Picasso found a way out of the darkness.


Salvador Dali - Swans reflecting Elephants


Marcel Duchamp - Fountain


Marcel Duchamp - L.H.O.O.Q.


Pablo Picasso - Murder


Pablo Picasso - Figure at the Seaside

It didn't stay light for long. As Germany and Russia started flexing their muscles in the 1930s Picasso found, in the Nazi bombing of Guernica, in the Spanish Civil War the inspiration for his, and therefore anyone in the last one hundred years, masterpiece. Guernica is one painting that really needs to be seen to be believed. My favourite anecdote is the one about a German officer asking Picasso if he'd done that. Picasso had replied 'no, you did'. Right on, brother!


Pablo Picasso - Guernica

Hitler and Picasso were both in Paris at the same time but that quote, and even a perfunctory look at Picasso's Charnel House, makes it very clear they were not friends. After the war was won Europe was in a mess and would take decades to repair. Over the strains of Joy Division's Atmosphere we learn about existentialism, Sartre's Being and Nothingness, and the last image we see is one of Giacometti's emaciated sculptures. Almost like a victim of the concentration camps.


Pablo Picasso - Charnel House


Alberto Giacometti - Walking Man II

Much more important things (lives, entire towns, trust) had been lost in the war but Paris surely enough lost its place as capital of the art world. That went to New York where it pretty much remains to this day. Giacometti had once designed the stage sets for a production of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. Anyone waiting for Paris to return to its heyday may have an equally long, and fruitless, wait. Hopefully those of us waiting, and looking forward to, AGD's next prismatic look back at art history won't be so unfortunate. Un triomphe monsieur.