At the end of every year each of us at Illuminations and at our sister company Illuminations Films contributes a top ten of cultural highlights of the year. We run these through this holiday period, with the third contribution today from Illuminations Films’ Simon Field. Thank you, Simon. Happy new year to you – and to all!
It was a very strong year for the Venice Biennale and several of the exhibitions in Venice would warrant inclusion in notable experiences of 2013: the marvellous, carefully curated Edouard Manet show – with its room of still lives the least of its pleasures – Jeremy Deller’s British Pavilion, the Anthony Caro condensed retrospective of substantial works.But I’d highlight the main show in the central pavilion of the Giardini and then continued (somewhat exhaustingly it has to be admitted) in the Arsenale: the Massimiliano Gioni-curated The Encyclopedic Palace (above). Echoing in some of its participants, outsider artists that we’ve seen in shows in London this last year (at the Hayward and the Wellcome Collection), it included an endlessly fascinating collection of encyclopedic visions of the world, strange collections and personal cosmologies from the mystical to the wittily everyday (Fischli and Weiss).
I was going to include this as one of the several exhibitions I enjoyed at this year’s Venice Biennale but can’t resist giving it a separate entry! For me, the less loudly acclaimed exhibitions presented at Palazzo Fortuny in collaboration with the Belgian Vervoordt Foundation are often the highlights of the Venice Art (as against Architecture) Biennale year. See for example TRA:Edge of Becoming from 2011.
This year, in the evocative, personalised space of Fortuny’s house and studio with its accompanying objects and collection and away from the glut of art elsewhere, were numerous large, mainly late, Tàpies paintings. These were impressive enough in their own right, but the richness and special pleasure of the experience resulted from the integration of oustanding works from Tàpies own art and object collection and those of the extensive Vervoordt Foundation which moved across centuries and across Asian and Western art. A lovely, unusually small and delicate Jackson Pollock was one of many pleasures.
3. Blue is the Warmest Colour
Already on many lists, praised and debated enough by others and no doubt seen by many readers of this blog. But I include it here because the first section of the film was for me (and I was an admirer of two of Kechiche’s earlier features, L’Esquive and La Graine et le Mulet/The Secret of the Grain) one of the most intense cinematic experiences of this year’s Cannes.
Abdellatif Kechiche proved in those two previous features that he was a film-maker capable of work of extraordinary intensity that needed time and great performers to be fully developed and here, particularly with the young actress Adèle Exarchopoulos, he achieved that intensity. The french title is La Vie d’Adèle Chapitre 1 et 2. For me, Chapter 2 with the extended sex sequences and the latter part of the film involving the coming together and break up of the two women, the film engaged us in a different register to Chapter 1 and entered more flawed territory. Peter Bradshaw’s glowing review is here.
Alexander Payne again proved to be one of the distinctive voices in American cinema able to work with the studios and maintain his own vision (see his recent interview in Sight & Sound). In this case, a film shot in beautiful black and white – you can call it a road movie – with an amazing sense of the mid-western land and city scape and their characters, with Bruce Dern giving a sensational performance as the old guy willing to walk from Montana to Nebraska to collect his million dollars.
Scouting duties for the Dubai International Film Festival had me looking at more British work in the latter half of the year than usual. I saw strong, already acclaimed, films by Clio Barnard (The Selfish Giant, which was shown in Dubai), Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin) among others, but the highlight of my viewing was Joanna Hogg’s third feature Exhibition.
Perhaps a film that doesn’t travel easily, it confirmed her to be one of our most distinctive film-makers, attentive to both image and – particularly – sound while continuing to explore middle class relationships in integral relation with the space in which they live. Here with two remarkable performances from Viv Albertine and Liam Gillick as the two artists in the process of selling their architect designed modern house. To be released in 2014, see the first Guardian review here.
6. Richard Serra
There was a great ‘drawing’ by Serra in the Fortuny exhibition I mentioned above, a total field of tarry black almost all the way to the top of the frame. Dark, stark and mysterious. Similar drawings or wall pieces were in the major end-of-year shows that the big-hitting galleries Gagosian and Hauser and Wirth presented. When they are displayed in these contexts one is inclined to think more of Serra’s blue-chip status. But it was the twenty-year-old steel piece in the Hauser and Wirth Onnasch Collection show that reminded me how powerful his work can be in its ‘minimalism’. It was two enormous pieces of steel in mutual balance, energising the corner of the space in which they were displayed. One of my single works of the year, Do It (1983) can be seen below.
Richard Serra — Do It, 1983
Hot rolled steel
332.7 x 259 x 358.1 cm
© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2013. Courtesy Onnasch Collection
7. György Kurtág’s Jelek for solo cello
A second resonant single work. This short but intense lament in memory of an old friend composed by György Kurtág, that ‘master of the miniature’, was played by Valérie Aimard in a concert of works by several composers that she and her brother Pierre-Laurent Aimard gave in Aldeburgh Church one Saturday morning during the last Aldeburgh Music Festival.
That such a seemingly sparse piece could conjure up so much feeling was part of what made the piece so moving. The experience – and not knowing much of Kurtág’s intense music – sent me happily in search of the ECM recordings of his work.
8. Norte: the End of History and Stray Dogs
Two examples of the cinema sometimes mistakenly described as ‘slow’ because of a propensity for long takes, combined in the case of Lav Diaz with several-hour-long running times. Norte is the greatest and most accessible (it will be released in the UK this year by the bold and committed distributors New Wave), of this Filipino long-take, low-budget master and his first film in colour.
Tsai Ming-liang is one of the acclaimed masters of Asian, not to mention world, cinema but on first viewing in Venice I had the feeling that Tsai was treading water in what he had said might be his last film. But seeing it again in Dubai in the charming and amused presence of Tsai himself and ideally positioned in front of a large screen I found it extraordinarily beautiful. For more on these see Jonathan Romney’s review of Norte for the trade magazine Screen and Nigel Andrews’ (a passionate advocate) interview with Tsai in the FT.
9. The Museum of Innocence
In contrast to the apparently pared down (but still enormously rich) characteristics of my numbers 6-8, Orhan Pamuk’s more-than 700-page novel (I needed the holiday during which I composed this ‘ten’ to finish it!) is packed with a plenitude of objects and detailed memories, as he describes his central character Kemal’s obsessive love for the beautiful but elusive Fusun. The project is fascinating in its link between the fictional and the possibly real because Pamuk has created a museum in Istanbul containing all the objects from cigarette stubs to wrecked car fragments described in the novel. This is soon to be the subject of a new essay film from Grant Gee. Something for next year’s ‘ten’, I hope.
Another case of plenitude. A pilgrimage as birthday gift to Simon Rogan’s restaurant at Cartmel in Cumbria. A very memorable meal of twenty courses, many of them small but all delicious and characterised by his use of the best local and foraged produce. Distinctive tastes, the masterly cooking based on the local rather the scientific, and pleasant but unpretentious surroundings and service definitely made for one of the memorable experiences of 2013.
Header image: Marino Auriti, Il Enciclopedico Palazzo del Mondo (The Encyclopedic Palace of the World), c.1950s, installation view, Arsenale. Courtesy: La Biennale di Venezia; photograph: Francesco Galli.