Philip Guston, The Studio, 1969: between abstraction and pop art
Philip Guston: Late Paintings
Inverleith House, Edinburgh,
Until 7th October
This year, as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, the latest ambitious summer show at Inverleith House will be devoted to Philip Guston, one of those artists whom, in the words of curator Paul Nesbitt, “people need to see.”
Canadian-born, but an LA schoolfriend of Jackson Pollock, Guston (1913-1980) made his name in New York as a leading figure in the first generation of Abstract Expressionists. It is, however, his late figurative works, nine of which will be shown here, which are his primary legacy. Angry, cartoonish, pink, or red and black, using repeated imagery of Ku Klux Klansmen, hands, cups, cigarettes, old shoes, severed limbs, and the naked light bulb hanging in his studio, these works confounded their first audiences. Now they are recognised as some of the most influential images of the late 20th century, bridging the gap between the high seriousness of painterly abstraction and the figurative brio of pop art.
Troilus and Cressida
Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon 3rd-18th August; Riverside Studios, London, 23rd August-8th September
We have seen some strange bedfellows throughout 2012’s World Shakespeare Festival but none, I’ll venture, as combustible as the marriage between Stratford’s Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and the Wooster Group of New York. The two companies have collaborated on one of Shakespeare’s most problematic plays, Troilus and Cressida, an epic drama about two lovers caught up in the Trojan War.
The collaboration was the brainchild of RSC associate and all-round iconoclast Rupert Goold. After setting the thing in motion, Goold passed the directorial baton over to RSC playwright-in-residence Mark Ravenhill. He rehearsed the Greek side of the play in the UK, while the Wooster Group rehearsed the Trojan side in New York—a separation intended to emphasise the cultural distinction between the Greeks and the Trojans. The American cast finally arrived in London after weeks of rehearsal in an initial encounter that must have been explosive. The legendary New York experimental group last brought a play to London ten years ago with their radical production of Racine’s Phaedra. I just hope the RSC knows what it is letting itself in for.
A Simple Life
In cinemas from 3rd August
Movies have always featured high body counts, but it seems death itself and care of the dying are beginning to fascinate filmmakers. This year’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner, Michael Haneke’s Amour, detailed the last rites of a long marriage, and now comes A Simple Life, a film by Chinese director Ann Hui set in Hong Kong. The film has already collected multiple awards across Asia and Europe.
Ah Tao (Deanie Ip) has been maid to the same family for 60 years. She continues to work for the only member still in Hong Kong, self-contained Roger (Andy Lau). As the film opens he barely acknowledges the old servant, but when she suffers a stroke and enters a care home, Roger gradually becomes the carer.
For once a tinkling piano soundtrack does not denote sentimentality: Hui and her lead actors (both superstars of Hong Kong cinema) prove meticulously restrained as the narrative shows the challenges of caring for an ageing population. A Simple Life remains touching while never glossing over on mankind’s essential loneliness.
Mittwoch aus Licht by Karlheinz Stockhausen
Birmingham Opera Company, 22nd-25th August
Stockhausen was possibly the best-known unknown composer of the post-war era. His extraordinarily esoteric, electronics-based works such as Gesang der Jünglinge and the more austere Stimmung (for six microphoned vocalists) probably remain unperformed and unheard by all but a very small band of the German’s devotees. Once a lean revolutionary experimenting with tapes and atonalism who influenced the Beatles and Pink Floyd, by the mid-90s Stockhausen had become a roly-poly recluse, focused on a bizarre cycle of operas called Licht (Light). Based on the seven days of the week, if performed together it would last 30 hours.
In person Stockhausen was a mix of the monomaniacal and the rawly sensitive, but there was no doubting his technical wizardry. On the page, musicians must surely boggle at what’s required of them in the last opera in the cycle, Mittwoch (“Wednesday”). A string quartet and four helicopters must rank as the most outrageous demand made by any score; but that’s what can be witnessed in and around Birmingham this August under Graham Vick’s direction. Expect huge noise from two choirs, a DJ—and a dozen whirring rotors.
The 20th International Thomas Hardy Conference & Festival
Dorchester, 18th-26th August
For at least the last decade of their marriage, Emma and Thomas Hardy had become so estranged that she had moved into the attic. Yet after her death in 1912, Hardy began an outpouring of desolate elegies, imagining himself haunted by her: “still she rides gaily / In his rapt thought / On the shagged and shaly / Atlantic spot…”
This is one strand of Hardy’s life and work picked out at the Thomas Hardy Festival, where the “Emma poems” (recently given new life in a slim volume selected by Claire Tomalin) will be read with piano accompaniment. Musical interpretations of Hardy abound, and there will be walking tours of the sites in his novels and performances of his work by poets Roger McGough and Daljit Nagra. Among the lectures given during the week, Professor Michael Irwin will speak on “The good little Thomas Hardy: a century of condescension.” No danger of that here.