As the 'David Hockney: A Bigger Picture' exhibition opens at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, DOUGLAS MITCHELL gives us his opinion.
The David Hockney exhibition’s 11-week run at the Royal Academy, which ended last month attracted mammoth queues – indeed, on some days people reportedly waited more than four hours to get in.
It attracted rave reviews – and some not-so-good reviews, too.
The sheer scale of the exhibition is colossal. Some of the ‘paintings’ encompass 32 individual canvasses and cover a space larger than the outside walls of most houses. Hence the title of the exhibition – A Bigger Picture.
Sermon on the Mount
In one room there are over 50 smaller paintings which could grace any ordinary home – but did they exhibit Hockney’s genius? Personally, I didn’t think so.
The final gallery had a collection of paintings inspired by The Sermon on the Mount, painted in 1656 by the French artist Claude Lorrain.
According to the exhibition notes, Hockney spent a long time researching and making sketches, before producing his own, larger version.
For Hockney, the fascination was not the subject matter, but the use of space and perspective. I can take the point, but I can’t say I liked any of this material.
I met Hockney about ten years ago when he was brought to Glasgow for an exhibition of his work at the Bill Hardie Gallery.
Sadly, this is no more. Bill, who is now retired and in poor health, was a champion of colourful and striking painting. Among other events, he staged a fantastic retrospective of paintings by Donald Bain in 2000.
Bill’s Hockney exhibition displayed the exuberance and force of a painter that knew what he was doing and the effect he was creating on his audience. I feel that knowledge has somewhat deserted him.
Flash of genius
There are about 200 works in total on display in the exhibition – and many more if you add the canvasses used to make up some of the individual works of art.
It would be be extraordinary if all of these showed Hockney’s genius – for genius he surely is.
After being disappointed by the first three galleries, I came to emerge into a fourth displaying his more recent paintings.
Here I was hit by a lightning bolt in the form of a painting of a sky consisting of blue and red dashes – pure genius .
Next come the iPad pictures – sketch books if you will – that he used to rapidly capture a moment and subsequently make it say something. For me, they didn’t say enough.
Eye for landscape
The pictures of hawthorn in blossom have a heaviness that doesn’t exist in real life – but the images do manage to capture the essence of the countryside.
And then the huge paintings. They really do speak to one’s inner being.
They overwhelm in scale in a building that makes them seem almost the size of Woldgate Woods in real life.
Winter Timber - the cover for the exhibition catalogue – takes purple as the colour for the foreground, with a contrast of yellows and browns for the wood. You feel you are there.
These display an artist’s eye for a landscape, and work well.
Sadly, I felt the ov erall effect of this exhibition is one of garish mediocrity.
And it seems I’m not completely alone in expressing some disappointment in the show – apparently, Brian Sewell, the Evening Standard‘s art critic, expressed similar reservations.
There are little bits of visual joy, but not enough, in my opinion, to justify turning over a large part of the Royal Academy – and now the Guggenheim – to them.