The Getty’s PR makes the “School of London” sound like a proto-Brexit Little Britain backwater that “rejected contemporary art’s preoccupation with abstraction and conceptualism in favor of the human figure and everyday landscape.” But is it true?
You might say they started with conventional intentions (capturing the model or landscape in front of them), deployed acuity and skill, but in the end created inventories of doubt. Like Dubuffet, Giacometti, De Kooning, and Wittgenstein—the most relevant literary parallel—the desire to observe and record is always frustrated by scruples about whether communication is possible.
Whatever the pretext, the show was a pleasure, though not every painter was well-represented.
I still remember with delight the Leon Kossoff show at LACMA sixteen years ago of prints and drawings after Poussin. Unfortunately this time around, only Children’s Swimming Pool, Autumn Afternoon (1971) held its own. Likewise, the Bacons—except for one Reclining Woman from 1961—seemed intimidated by the company. Ditto the Kitaj paintings on view. But there were works on paper that more than made up for them. The world has been so full of lesser versions of The Rise of Fascism (1975/9) recently.
Michael Andrews is the name I didn’t know at all, but he certainly figures in. A Man Who Suddenly Fell Over (1952) is like a late- Neue Sachlichkeit spoof. I bet Hockney knew it. Melanie and Me Swimming (1978/9) is eerie and comanding. I gather it’s a popular favorite.
The selection of Lucian Freud’s paintings and etchings demonstrated that he had been John Singer Sargent reborn: incapable of making a mark that was ugly or insignificant. Leigh under the Skylight (1994) is a swagger portrait if anything ever was. David and Eli (2003/4) has, per square inch, more visual interest than many eminent museums.
The Frank Auerbachs were a revelation. I’ve never seen so much of his work before. His room was worth the trip. It seems a gimmick—tricking out wild, frosting-slathers of pigment with hints of figuration—but it’s not. Isn’t that De Kooning’s game? But FA dares to to use colors that can’t appease. His Oxford Street Building Site I (1959/60) is a Beckettian vision of nothingness. A towering expanse of vomit-brown and blood red, with details here and there worked in with care, but without fussiness. Mornington Crescent with the Statue of Sickert’s Father-in-Law (1966) splits the difference between ugliness and beauty, composition and chaos. But the best of all—best of show—was Primrose Hill (1967/8)—not a scene, or an event but residue of seeringly intense inaction.