this issue contains:
>> Catherine Yass: Dream Shifts
>> The Human Clay
>> Six Photographers: A View from London
>> Susan Derges: "The whole night became my dark room ..."

>> archive

The Human Clay

Francis Bacon, Study for a Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1989
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2002

When Winchester House, the Bank’s new London headquarters, opened in 1999, London began emulating the art historical approach pioneered in Frankfurt. Here, the hanging of the works is ordered chronologically according to art historical themes, with the individual floors dedicated to specific post-war German artists. Although the building in London houses over 2000 people, it is far from being an ordinary tower block. Its curved yellow form has earned it the nickname “big banana,” which was one of the reasons why the London art department found it inappropriate to simply adopt the Twin Tower example. Instead, they devised a system based on round conference rooms, each of which is devoted to a single artist. Thus, the corridors and floors were hung with the works of both British and German artists in order to convey an idea of the artistic developments that have taken place in both countries over the last 40 years.

Konferenzraum mit Arbeiten von Patrick Caufield, Winchester House London

Konferenzraum mit Arbeiten von Lucian Freud

Today, there are over 130 rooms named after artists in the British branches of the Deutsche Bank. Nearly half of these are in Winchester House, which starts off the brief tour through recent British and German art. With a lithograph of one of his Pope images, Francis Bacon begins the story of British post-war art. A Bruce Bernard photograph of the artist himself is hanging outside the room devoted to Bacon’s bull-fighting arena imagery. Proceeding west down the corridor are other School of London artists, including Lucian Freud, Leon Kossoff, Frank Auerbach, and R.B.Kitaj.

Frank Auerbach Reclining Figure, 1972

Leon Kossoff, Dalston Junction near Ridley Road, 1972
© Annely Juda Fine Art, London

Interconnecting rooms and corridors are one of the advantages of using buildings as a three-dimensional introduction to art history; thematic connections can be demonstrated in a variety of directions. History is not, after all, a simple march down a straight corridor. To back up the top two floors of Winchester House conference rooms, where works by the School of London artists are shown beside their contemporaries, the Deutsche Bank curators were able to devote a floor in a neighbouring building to the exhibition that originally launched the School of London.

It was Kitaj who first coined the phrase “The School of London” when he curated a show back in 1976 entitled The Human Clay. Now, in bringing together some of the artists included in this Arts Council travelling exhibition, we can present another perspective on the emergence of Britain’s most famous older artists.

Colin Self, Nude Triptych, 1971
© Alan Christea Gallery, London

“I have felt very out of sorts with my time,” Kitaj wrote in the opening text to his catalogue for The Human Clay. After having lived in London for over thirty years, he finally acted on these words in 1998, when he decided to leave Britain and return to the States. Yet in the intervening years, Kitaj’s exhibition continued to have a dramatic impact on British art and the way it was perceived both at home and abroad.

Kitaj pointed out that London boasted many artists who were prepared to work outside the rigid avant-gardism of the time. As he wrote, “The bottom line is that there are artistic personalities in this small island more unique and strong and I think numerous than anywhere in the world outside America’s jolting artistic vigour… There is a substantial School of London … if some of the strange and fascinating personalities you may encounter here were given a fraction of the international attention and encouragement reserved in this barren time for provincial and orthodox vanguardism, a School of London might become even more real than the one I have construed in my head. A School of real London in England, in Europe … with potent art lessons for foreigners emerging from this odd old, put upon, very singular place.”

R.B. Kitaj, Study (Jean), 1969
© The Artist courtesy of Marlbough Fine Art

Kitaj’s School of London vision caught on, and with the help of the British Council and curators around the world, it did indeed become as international as Kitaj had once predicted. The art world, however, is chronically prone to fashion, and the nineties have witnessed a return to another type of vanguardism that once more made Kitaj feel excluded. The time has come, perhaps, to reflect on the ideas put forward in The Human Clay. Although it has sometimes been promoted as such, the School of London Kitaj conceived was by no means a tight, exclusive group of artists.

Lucian Freud, Woman with an Arm-Tattoo, 1996
© Goodmann Derrick, London

There were thirty-five artists included in The Human Clay, and nearly all of them were chosen to illustrate Kitaj’s point that the study of the human figure was as alive and well as ever. The few works on paper in the present display give an indication of the range of artists chosen for the original exhibition, but no more. There again, Kitaj argued against the rigid application of theory to art. As he concluded, “‘No one will own the truth’” – as Pound [Ezra] said once, despite all the hard-boiled and half-baked vanities of all the various lots of us – there will always be various lots of truths according to the odd lives we lead.”

Peter Blake, I for Idols, 1991
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2002

Richard Hamilton, I'm dreaming of a black Christmas, 1971
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2002

In the spirit of The Human Clay, an exhibition that was mysteriously both discriminating and inclusive at one and the same time, the floor of the Deutsche Bank devoted to this exhibition is only meant to bring attention to the diverse range of art that has been made. Kitaj and many of the artists represented here have rooms named after them in Winchester House: Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Peter Blake, Patrick Caulfield, Lucian Freud, Richard Hamilton, Howard Hodgkin, Leon Kossoff, and Colin Self. The vagaries of buying art and planning buildings have meant that some of Kitaj’s artists presently have rooms elsewhere; the bank only acquired the work of Michael Andrews in time for its offices in Appold Street, whereas other buildings benefit from sculptors such as Anthony Caro and Eduardo Paolozzi. Showing art in constantly evolving offices may, in strict academic terms, have its problems, but it certainly lends the collection its very own character.

Alistair Hicks

Anne at Drancy Station, 1985
© The Artist courtesy of Marlbough Fine Art