What is it about
I wanted to hate Georg Baselitz’s (1938- ) exhibition, titled Darkness Goldness, at White Cube Mason’s Yard in London. Maybe not hate, but I definitely wasn’t prepared to like it. I glanced at the online viewing room prior to my visit, and I was not impressed. A bunch of golden hands, on black or white backgrounds, all of which cost upwards of £300,000?! No thanks… but still, off I went.
The Exhibition was spread out across two floors: the ground floor, and the floor below. Humans entered from one side of the building. Gallery invigilators immediately ushered visitors into a white-walled room. A parallel exit on the other side allowed visitors to descend the staircase that took us directly to the second part of the exhibit. I entered the building, doused my hands in “anti-covid” gel, and entered the first room. I got lucky: the room was empty.
What I saw shook me. On the walls were the black and gold images that I had prepared myself to loathe. The painting furthest away from me was on a black canvas, with an almost reflective gold-coloured hand. The palm of the hand was at the top of the canvas, and appeared yellow unlike the fingers below it. The gold on the fingers was marred by streaks of black, which cut through from the dark background.
Similar coloured hands hung on two of the other walls in the room, but with varying shades of black, gold, and sometimes a dreary grey tone. On the fourth wall hung seven fire-gilt bronze hands without canvasses. The uncanvassed bronze sculptures contrasted beautifully with the dark-canvassed paintings. The juxtaposed colours created a room that felt unbalanced in a comforting way. This added a whole new dimension to the exhibition for me.
The room on the basement floor is similar to the one on the ground floor, but with only the gold hands on dark canvasses: seventeen to be exact. The images are different sizes and hang at different levels across the four walls: six, then three, then six, then two. Again, I was the only person in the room. I stopped walking, and the space fell silent. I took another step, and the hands came with me, moving together, while also differentiating themselves from one another even further. Eventually, each small distinction became a striking difference. I stopped and looked around, surprised by how quickly my opinion had transformed from eager criticism to unabashed enthusiasm.
I took photos of the exhibition (attached below). They don’t do Georg Baselitz or Darkness Lightness justice. A viewer can’t see the way the light hits each painting, or the texture created by the multiple layers of paint. I think that was my problem in the first place: virtual first impressions for an exhibition with such scale only captures fragments of what is being offered. Can a viewer fault Baselitz for creating something (relatively) unphotogenic? I’m not sure. I guess it depends on our audience. The current contemporary art industry tends to focus on shock-factor, both in person, and online. Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, and Yayoi Kusama all thrive on this, in that the impression each artist creates virtually helps drive up the price of her/his art, and the art market as a whole. Their art is more photogenic, as well, in that their use of colours, large statues, and neon lights leaves a similar impression both in person and online.
It’s not bad; it’s just different, and a quality of which each artist should be conscious. Perhaps Georg Baselitz can ask Goldfinger to showcase one of his paintings in the villain’s gold-plated Rolls-Royce. That’ll be sure to turn some heads, or perhaps in this case, some hands.