David Bomberg's The Mud Bath (1914) Courtesy of Tate
When David Bomberg unveiled a collection of bold geometric works at Chelsea's Chenil Gallery in 1914, he was interpreted by many to be severing ties with traditional art. But, as convincingly argued byYoung Bomberg and the Old Masters at the National Gallery (until 1 March 2020; free), his audacious brand of modernism was in fact heavily—and avowedly—indebted to the past. Confined to just one room, the exhibition is rather pressed for space, showing just 8 Bombergs (half of which are preliminary studies) with two Old Masters. In The Mud Bath (1914) (on loan from Tate), quasi-anthropomorphic figures are arranged to loosely resemble bathers at an East End bathhouse. While the shows catalogue suggests the work's inspirations (namely Rembrandt, Michaelangelo) we are largely left to imagine these links. Far more effective are the direct comparisons—Botticellis Portrait of a Young Man (around 1480-5) hangs besides a pencil self-portrait, directly influenced by the quattrocento painting, with both men possessing charismatic, determined stares. Even better is the painted study Sappers at Work (1918-19), a towering portrayal of a mine attack in World War I, which has its striking roses and lilacs tied to the swirling pinks and purples of El Greco. Mercifully, Bomberg is never pitted against these Renaissance heavyweights (there is no doubt who would win). Instead, the show allows for his clear reverence of the Old Masters to remain the focus, serving to both reposition and elevate his work.
“Im gonna breakaway, breakaway from the everyday,” sings Toni Basil in Bruce Conners mesmerising, sexy and infinitely catchy Breakaway (1966). The exhibition Bruce Conner: Breakaway at Thomas Dane Gallery (until 22 February 2020; free) is of a single work that only lasts five minutes. But visitors will find it hard to not watch it more than once or be able to shake off the tune for the rest of the day. On the face of it, especially in a post-MTV world, the experimental US artists film is a straightforward music video. But it is in the works seeming simplicity where the brilliance lies. Shot on 16mm black-and-white film it shows the US singer and performer Toni Basil dancing in front of a black background, wearing different outfits—quickly losing then gaining them again—as her song plays over the top. The film's fast cut edits and the jitteriness of its frenzied zooms create a strobe-like effect and at times the flickers of Basils body make it become almost abstracted; she becomes a trace of herself before boldly coming back. Its all over too fast before being played back in reverse using a backmasking technique popularised by The Beatles that very same year. Basil then makes two fleeting final appearances before the end credit: “fine”.
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