I really ought to explore the back streets of King’s Cross a bit more. Wait, that sounded awful. King’s Cross is an odd place. Even ten years ago, it was a bit of a dump, and twenty years ago it was perfectly possible to find affordable housing around here, within easy walking distance of the West End and the City. In recent years it’s become more genteel, even before the distinctly swish redevelopment of St Pancras.
Yesterday I encountered the Gagosian Gallery on Britannia Street for the first time. I’d never even heard of it before, and frankly it sounded like a made-up name. But apparently there was a rather good Picasso exhibition on, so I headed over.
Britannia Street is a short stroll from where I work in Bloomsbury, off Grays Inn Road and very close to King’s Cross Station (the old Thameslink exit is probably the closest). The street is full of historical reminders – there’s an office building converted from what looked to me like a former horse bus garage and a smoke ventilation shaft in a car park as a reminded of steam days on the Metropolitan Railway.
The Gagosian Gallery, by contrast, was almost intimidatingly modern. Very square, very minimalist. I felt quite out of place with my long hair and battered corduroy jacket. The gallery opened in 2004, and is one of a number around the world (including another in London, on Heddon Street in Piccadilly). It’s also the largest commercial art gallery in London. It is owned by New York art dealer Larry Gagosian, one of the top art dealers in the world. Nicknamed “Go Go” for the speed with which he established himself, he now represents such figures as Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol, Howard Hodgkin and Cy Twombly among many others. I must admit that I personally think that art and business are uneasy bedfellows, but that’s probably because I secretly dream of being a penniless Bohemian in 1930s Fitzrovia.
The exhibition I was there to see was Picasso: The Mediterranean Years (1945-1962). I was there with the Da, who was working on Grays Inn Road that day. He is a recent convert to the delights of Picasso, having previouslky considered him something of a poser. I’d studied him for GCSE art, so knew the basics. I’d been into modern art since the age of 10, not so much because I understood it as because it seemed to piss a lot of people off.
But I digress. The period covered by this exhibition was Picasso returning to his roots, as it were, the artistic revolutionary revitalised by the different pace of life in the South of France.
What was striking about this exhibition was the sheer variety of work on display – paintings, sculptures, ceramics, paper cut-outs, posters and drawings. Not to mention the wide range of styles, from primitive to Cubist to some that were distinctly cartoony to my eye (though some art buff will probably correct me and explain that they were in fact “expressionist” at this point – serious art folks don’t like cartoons less than two hundred years old as a rule). Lawd help us, there were even one or two representational works.
The other thing that struck me was how, well, fun it all was. One of the first exhibits on the way in was a vase with a bikini painted on it. Many of the paintings dealt with children at play, or satyrs piping and dancing. Even the grinning devil lost his sting.
What this exhibition brought home to me was Picasso the man – not the legendary figure in the canon of art, but the artist himself, playing around, being inspired, thinking and imagining and joking and feeling. A man of great and varied talents, true, but nevertheless as human as you or me.
The exhibition is therefore to be recommended to all with an interest in Picasso and even those who aren’t too bothered about him. It’s a refreshing take on an icon that may make you think a little differently about him.
http://www.gagosian.com/exhibitions/2010-06-04_picasso/ – The Gagosian website.