Galleries - December 2011

humans. Department stores left him cold but he positively revelled in small shops where all sorts of incongruous items were to be found rubbing shoulders with each other: ‘the widest possible choice in the smallest possible area’. He would very much have enjoyed the variety on offer in galleries, fairs and open studios up and down the country this winter. A good place to get your eye in is in museum shops, and if you are in the Victoria & Albert Museum, who themselves have the excitement of a new director, then you can also visit the Power of Making , a joint exhibition with the Crafts Council. Over 100 exquisite objects from both amateurs and leading makers should certainly give you plenty of ideas, and don’t forget that it’s not difficult to commission work if you want an extra-personal touch. Galleries always reveal the taste of their owners, especially those which have a mix of work. You really feel that each piece of furniture or glass or sculpture has been picked in response to very personal criteria, so the trick is to find somewhere that chimes with your own aesthetic sense. Bearing in mind O Henry’s classic short story about two impoverished young who each sell their most prized possession to buy a Christmas present for the other, only to discover that their own sacrifice rendered the other’s gift otiose, it is wise to give the subject considerable thought well in advance. Really organised people approach the task with military precision. First comes the analysis of the recipient. Special hobbies or areas of interest? Would relatives or friends be able to suggest ideas? Is there something they’ve recently mentioned seeing in an exhibition? What space do they have on their walls or on their shelves? Are they actively or passively artistic, or both? Growing, learning or yearning? If they are soon to go on holiday, how about a DIY Ink Sketching Kit (nib-holders, drawing nibs, Indian ink, pad of hot-pressed watercolour sketch paper and, for pen-and-wash, a round brush, tube of black watercolour paint and small mixing-bowl) a present which will also give you an excuse to browse around emporia such as Green & Stone, packed to the gunwales with everything from palettes to pastels. Of all groups of people, collectors are the easiest and the most difficult to buy for. Yes, they know what they want and will gladly tell you. No, it may be almost impossible to run to ground that particular thing they are longing for, an early porcelain pot by Victor Margrie, for instance, or an out of print monograph on Winifred Nicholson. Leaving it up to them to find does take some of the shine off the process, especially as they may not track it down in time for the big day, but even then all may not be lost. Although we tend to associate Christmas with the exchange of presents, other days have their own traditions, notably those of St Nicholas and St Basil, Epiphany and All Souls’ Day. There are also birthdays, which in my family come right on top of Christmas, just to add to the general sense of fun and The giving and receiving of presents is woven into the fabric of Christmas, and has been since time immemorial, despite a belief that before the Victorians the festival was chiefly celebrated by eating and drinking. The singing of carols, the lighting of candles, the gift giving and the decorating with evergreens are all traditional (so too is Father Christmas, once Woden, bringer of gifts). In this country there has never been general agreement on the hour for opening presents (as opposed to stockings which are early morning excitements) though whenever it happens, it tends to be done under the full gaze of family and friends. So, what better than to pick something that will have the recipient and the assembled company astounded by your artistic taste and thoughtfulness? Buying art is certainly no last minute dash on Christmas Eve: it is a process to be savoured and undertaken at a slow pace. Better start now. Noel Coward often grumbled about Christmas, but he was rather keen on ‘loot’: in December 1951 he records with glee going to the Leicester Galleries to choose a present from the theatrical producers H M Tennent Ltd (a Sickert) and finding a John Nash going cheap, which he promptly bought for himself. As grumblers go, J B Priestley was a self- confessed champion, but even he recalled the joy of receiving a red-and-white striped football shirt one long-distant Christmas day. He also realised that shopping had become ‘an instinctive activity’ for many Art Presence