Gone but not forgotten: Richard Hamilton, Lucian Freud, Franz West, Chris Marker
Posthumous surveys tend to show up artists' hidden depths in sharp relief. We look at four timely exhibitions following four untimely deaths.
Angels and spectral figures haunt the 'Late Works' of the late Richard Hamilton, who died a year before this final exhibition of his was due to open at the National Gallery. He knew it would be his last too, as the ambitious, climactic composition of a nude - who was meant to be so realistic as to appear to be breathing into life, as per a short story by Balzac called 'The Unknown Masterpiece' - has been purposefully and tantalisingly left as three computer-generated mock-ups of a never-to-be-realised painting. If there are some awkward moments and unresolved elements in this show, especially in the unfinished digital prints, then the rest of Hamilton's career can be seen as cool, clear and calculated, down to the last detail.
Hamilton was far more than a mere pop artist, exploring like no one else before him such vital crossovers as those between photography and painting as well as from idea to execution, while prefiguring Photoshop and image manipulation by at least two decades. Despite his techno-artistry, it's fitting that Hamilton should hang among the old masters, such was his admiration for the art of the past. Would this have been his crowning achievement? He was far too measured for such hyperbole and was perhaps himself prepared for his final masterpiece to remain unknown.
Lucian Freud, another artist that died last year (and who shared a birthdate with Hamilton too), was also given the metaphorical keys to the National Gallery, spending many late nights wandering its hallowed halls. While it might be fair to assume that we found out everything we needed to know about Freud from his stunning posthumous exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery last year, a tiny display of his heads next to those of baroque painter Annibale Caracci proves that you can still tease new tricks out of any old dog.
Sparingly hung in the elegant gallery of dealer Pilar Ordovas, who has been making a name for her pairings of ancient and modern since her inaugural Bacon and Rembrandt show this time last October, Freud can be seen struggling with his artistic legacy as much as with the sitters' features before him, trying to emulate the freshness of paintings made hundreds of years before. Perhaps Freud will still astonish in centuries to come.
A much lesser known Austrian, though no less Freudian in his suggestive, phallic-shaped work, was Franz West, who died prematurely this summer, aged just 65. As important as his carefree energy was for younger artists, West was also a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stuffy art world and has succeeded in turning Gagosian's intimidating art warehouse into a colourful, adult equivalent of a softplay romper room (minus the ball pool) with his sinuous and hilarious sculptures.
If it's influence you're after, then look no further than reclusive French filmmaker Chris Marker, who died in July aged 91, and who shows for almost the first time in an institutional setting at the equally reclusive Blouin Foundation, which lurks in the shadows of Westfield. Marker pioneered many arthouse techniques and cinematic styles, including the documentary essay and found footage clipathon (there would be no 24-hour 'Clock' and indeed no Christian Marclay without Chris Marker), but he was also an exponent of on-screen and lens-inflected beauty.
He walked (relatively) freely around North Korea in 1957, snapping a different side to a society left behind the march of time, and spent his latter years surreptitiously photographing women on the Paris metro, for an astonishing series called 'Passengers' (2008-10). Among the touching and not-so-innocent portraits of female commuters, mostly unaware of their beauty being captured by a stranger, is a brief glimpse of the artist himself in a train window reflection. This may not take us any closer to the man but there's no denying Marker's importance as a flaneur, bricoleur, voyeur and auteur.
Who was who:
Lucian Freud (1922-2011)
Britain's greatest post-war painter was a lone beacon in perpetuating the old masterly traditions of figurative portraiture and grandiose nudes, famously turning his brush on such larger-than-life characters as Leigh Bowery and Benefits Supervisor Sue Tilley, not to mention Kate Moss and the Queen. Ordovas Gallery until December 15 2012.
Richard Hamilton (1922-2011)
Often regarded as the inventor of pop art, for his 1956 collage 'Just what is it that makes today's home so different, so appealing?', London-born Hamilton also designed the conceptual 'White Album' cover for The Beatles in 1968, but preferred the company of other artists such as Dieter Roth and Marcel Duchamp. National Gallery until January 13 2013.
Chris Marker (1921-2012)
This cult French filmmaker, who often claimed he was born in Outer Mongolia and would send pictures of cats in place of his own portrait, created the stop-motion, sci-fi classic, 'La Jetée' (1962), a dreamily narrated stream of black-and-white photos in which a man travels back in time to witness his own death. Blouin Foundation until November 3 2012.
Franz West (1947-2012)
The highly influential Austrian artist was famed for his comically phallic public benches and deliciously coloured sculptural confections, variously derived from Viennese sausages, lips, knots or testicles (hence the title of his London show, 'Man with a Ball').
Gagosian Gallery until November 10 2012.