When I first started going to galleries in London in the 1980s, Cork Street was very much The Place. A quiet thoroughfare linking Bond Street and the Royal Academy, it seemed to be part of establishment London and yet one could often catch a risqué glimpse of Modernism. This seemed about right for the London Art scene of the time, when some people were just getting into Neo Expressionism and a lot of people still needed to catch up with the first round of Cubism.
Well, it’s still there. In fact I don’t remember there ever being so many galleries there before. It is a heterogenous cluster of the good the bad and the ugly. This is the sharp end of art – where people who have the money buy things they like for themselves. And you might not need as much money as all that. There was a Matisse for sale there – an actual Matisse painting that I have never come across before in reproduction – for around the price of a small flat in W1. OK, that is still a lot of money – but it is Matisse we are talking about. But if your budget does not quite stretch to that you can have a fairly good imitation Bonnard or Monet for a couple of thousand. But there are more original contemporary works in amongst them, albeit taking fairly traditional forms (installations are rare).
This heterogeneity of Cork St presents the viewer with a dilemma of taste. It is easy to despise the imitations, but some of them are competent if not original. The purist in me wants to scream when it sees them. But of course the purist in me is a very small component…I have developed a certain tolerance for these things over the years. Better to have a dreadful derivative painting you love, than the latest word in contemporary art if you are only buying it because some critic said it was cool.
This is a digression, but if Post Modernism did one good thing it was to emphasise the pluralism of art. Well, I’m not really sure if this was good or not but it does away with the Modernist notion of progressing along a single path to an ultimate goal of an art that can take only one ultimate, perfected shape. But having dismissed that we seem to have a situation where direction is completely random and overly individualistic and there is no cogent dialogue between different works.
So what did I see that was original? And good? Ken Currie at Flowers was interesting and you can even watch it on YouTube . These are paintings, but they are paintings aware of the lens. I don’t think these are paintings of photographs, but they have a photographic quality. There is depth of field in them, and the singularity of focus feels like a photographic gaze. But still quite arresting.
The good news is that Mick Moon is still alive and painting in 2012. The bad news is so is Peter Blake. Blake is a trivial, parochial artist. He is the ukip of the art world. He is at best an irritant, at worst a self-involved irrelevance wilfuly misconstruing the dynamism of Twentieth Century art. I’ll take an imitation Bonnard instead, I think.