Is Hockney any good?
Sometimes there are advantages to being married to an art historian. On Tuesday, it was going to the opening of the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy -- and exhibition of his recent landscapes (mostly of Yorkshire).
There had been loads of publicity, advance reviews and tv programmes about these pictures, and I hadn't much liked what I saw. Quick big stuff, I thought. And not actually very interesting (even if you are a fan of Yorkshire). In the event, I thought the show WAS much more impressive than I had expected (not sure if it was interesting). . . but that's another story.
The really amazing thing was the crowds of people. This was the opening (usually at the Royal Academy a fun, well-oiled but relatively demure occasion) and there were people queuing to get in right across the courtyard. When you got inside there were loads of photographers lined up the stairs, waiting for the celebs and ostentatiously not lifting their cameras for the likes of us (thank god).
So why the interest?
Well partly because Hockney has become a 'national treasure'. As the husband observed, while we waited in the queue, most people tend to confuse Hockney with Alan Bennett; true enough I thought. In fact Hockney did a great, and generous, and self-effacingly eloquent speech to celebrate the opening, which certainly deserved 'treasure' status. He was in fact back-handedly nice about the Royal Academy itself, saying that it had been really needed in the 18th century, and in the 19th century... not so sure about the 20th century, but needed again in the 21st. You couldnt help but warm to him.
But the pictures? Well I thought that some of the really big ones of trees and roads etc were wonderful in an 'in your face' kind of way; but there were too many too hurried paintings which didn't seem to me to be about very much at all -- and the few early things from the 60s were memorable. The audience seemed to be divided between the paid up fans, and the academic trashers, determined to say that the whole thing was horribly over-rated and the pictures far too full of meaningless twirls. (The husband rightly queried why so many of the big images were made up of metre square panels...what did this offer over a simple single big canvas? what was the point?)
But the funniest comment was in the coat queue, from a famous art dealer of the 60s, who had not been uninfluential in the Hockney rise. "Never thought I's have to queue to see Hockney" he said... and reported to all of us waiting in line that there had been a free preview (and supper) the night before. You could just walk in, he claimed, if you said you were a friend of Hockney.