Galleries - December 2015

Ifit’s possible to be known, yet unknown in 20th century British art, Gerald Wilde (1905-1986) is most definitely it. Written about and admired by a whole string of major post-war critics – David Sylvester, John Berger, Lawrence Alloway, Tim Hilton, William Feaver among others, and hugely admired by painters ofthe calibre ofLucian Freud and Frank Auerbach – Wilde’s art has remained steadfastly unknown by a wider public, and unseen in any major public space since a solitary Serpentine show in 1977. Yet, as Sylvester himselfonce pointed out, the astoundingly visceral paintings Wilde produced from the late 1940s to the early 70s bear closer comparison with the work ofthe Abstract Expressionists in America and the Cobra painters in Europe ofthe same period, than anything else to be found in British art of the time, though produced utterly independently ofthem. “Violent and vertiginous, the paintings have a feeling of chaos held in miraculous balance” Sylvester once observed; “... an art which has the exhilaration ofa disaster just averted.” So what happened? Self- sabotage in the form of drink, financial impecuniousness and a tendency to destroy or give away his work to strangers in pubs didn’t help, but it also reflects very badly on the timidity of curators, both then and now. Something ofthe ‘outsider’ still clings to him, which is why Chili Hawes, the redoubtable director ofthe October Gallery, gave him their opening show in 1979, and why, some 36 years and numerous exhibitions later, she is showing him again. An art emerging out ofthe crucible of wartime experience, it is nonetheless exhilarating and exuberant and somehow very far from any existential doom and gloom. Now a Tate show finally? Unmissable public gallery shows in London, closing this month or shortly thereafter, include major Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy ( to 13 December). His work, for all the frequent mentions in the press ofhis dissident activity, has actually been seen only comparatively rarely in this country to date. Covering his artistic activities since his return to China from a decade in New York, in 1993, Ai Weiwei’s often massive and powerful interventions operate within the tensions that lie between China’s ancient cultural heritage and artefacts and the realities of a ferocious and often brutal modern/contemporary history. Operating at one ofthose rare historical intersections between the visual arts and advanced mathematics, M.C. Escher’s Surrealist-inspired inventions have enjoyed a cult following in this country since the 1960s when, towards the end ofhis life, psychedelia espoused him as one oftheir own and he adorned every student’s bedsit wall! He has been a bit snootily regarded as a mere graphic artist by art historians ever since but, as this splendid show at Dulwich Picture Gallery (to 17 January) makes plain, he is much more than this, constantly pushing and enquiring all through his life and the most difficult of historical (Occupation) circumstances. Mathematicians certainly respected him; it transpired on television recently that the great mathematician Sir Roger Penrose had suggested ideas to him concerning infinity which he felt Escher had given the most perfect of visual representations to. Some compliment! Finally to that wonderful small treasure house, the Estorick Collection, where an intriguing exhibition, entitled ‘More than Meets the Eye’ (until 20 December), reveals results of close scientific examinations of some ofthe collection’s more celebrated and familiar Italian Futurist masterpieces. Ifthat all sounds a bit specialist and esoteric, the results are fascinating to a degree, the analysis provided by the art historians, restorers and scientists revealing not only a great deal about how the artists worked but also the existence ofpreviously SIXS HOWS A known unknown 16 GALLERIES DECEMBER 2015 A public display