Monochrome review – white stripes, shocking yellow and 500 shades of grey
Source:theguardian Author:Adrian Searle Date: 2017-11-03 Size:
Medieval manuscripts and Malevich’s Black Square; a niggly grey and black Giacometti ……

‘Shocking light that saturates your eyeballs’… Olafur Eliasson’s Room for One Colour, 1997.Photograph: Anders Sune Berg/© Olafur Eliasson

Medieval manuscripts and Malevich’s Black Square; a niggly grey and black Giacometti and Titian’s Portrait of a Lady; Cy Twombly’s scribbled writing and Ingres’s La Grande Odalisque, repainted in shades of grey. Monochrome at the National Gallery is a peculiar visual and art-historical experience, beginning with an illuminated manuscript with St Catherine next to the wheel on which she was martyred – the scene drawn in delicate greys on parchment, the image completed with a disconcertingly vivid blue sky – and ending with an empty room with strong yellow lighting, by Olafur Eliasson.

Although subtitled Painting in Black and White, the exhibition is full of colourful incident. Monochromatic painting can mean any number of things. Painters have often used variations of a single colour as underpainting before applying opaque body-colour or layers of more or less translucent glazes. Monochromatic painting might emulate light on stone or the fall of drapery, black and white photography, or an old movie still. It might mean painting the entire canvas in a field of single colour, or no colour at all.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and workshop, Odalisque in Grisaille, about 1824-34. Photograph: The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource / Scala, Florence

A list of 20th- and 21st-century artists painting in monochrome, let alone those making single-colour paintings, would be very long indeed. There are always some on show, somewhere. A walk away from the National Gallery, at Gagosian, an entire exhibition by the American painter Brice Marden is devoted to canvases each of which is painted using a different paint manufacturer’s brand of terre verte.

Etienne Moulinneuf’s Back from the Market, c.1770 – a painting of an engraving of a painting by Chardin. Photograph: Museum Associates/LACMA

Where is James Turrell when we need him? Or Franz Kline’s black and white dramas and Yves Klein’s patented blue? Where are Ad Reinhardt’s fugitive blacks, Robert Ryman’s entire career devoted to whiteness? One might think of this exhibition as a sum of exclusions as much as it is a display of works, from the middle ages to now, made with a very restricted palette. And if this is a show about black and white, why are there no Chinese or Japanese works here?

Some works deal with tonality rather than colour, or use media, such as silverpoint, that have a severely limited (though often extremely beautiful) range. It is a drawing medium. Jan van Eyck used it, along with ink and small amounts of colour in an image of St Barbara. Does this really count as a monochrome?

Artists have always been interested in plays on materiality, on genre, on confusions of one thing with another. Painting as image, painting as object, painting as a response to photography and to film (and now, of course, to CGI and other kinds of digital imagery). Painters paint the world and the world includes all sorts of different kinds of images. Étienne Moulinneuf’s 1770 oil painting of an engraving of Chardin’s painting Back from the Market (La Pourvoyeuse), framed under a trompe l’oeil of broken glass (it looks like the framed engraving fell off the wall) is a great play on the painted and the engraved, reality and illusion. It is also a demonstration of skill, directed at things we might otherwise pass over.

Joel by Chuck Close, 1993: ‘Its wobbly hand-painted pixels actually contain any number of greyed colours.’ Photograph: Bill Jacobson/Chuck Close c/o Pace Gallery

Monochrome gets more scatty the closer we get to the present. A huge Chuck Close portrait of artist Joel Shapiro, whose wobbly hand-painted pixels actually contain any number of greyed colours; a lovely Vija Celmins painting of the night sky; a Gerhard Richter, reduplicating a salacious magazine photograph of a Hamburg prostitute and her boyfriend, who later murdered the woman. Richter reappears later with a pair of grey mirrors, hanging in the same room as Malevich and Bridget Riley, and, among much else, an early Frank Stella comprised of concentric bands of black enamel.

Last of all we enter Olafur Eliasson’s 1997 Room for One Colour. The shocking light saturates your eyeballs and shuts down your capacity to read colour, until you stumble out and experience a moment of visual hypersensitivity. It made me feel kinda blue. There is a great show to be made about the monochrome but this isn’t it. Treat it as a sketch.

Monochrome: Painting in Black and White is at the National Gallery, London, until 18 February.

Horizontal Vibration, 1961 by Bridget Riley Photograph: Bridget Riley 2017

[Editor] 姜鑫