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This report is taken from PN Review 115, Volume 23 Number 5, May - June 1997.

Thresholds Lawrence Sail

In strictly practical terms, our approaches to art can have their indignities. Sometimes they involve peering and bending: to read what is written sideways on the spine of a book, or at the side of a picture in a gallery. Or stretching, being reminded that you are not only lower than the angels but also a good way below the book on the top shelf that you are after. Or struggling not to show unartistic irritation to the person who, unbelievably, brushes past your nose as you are actually bending towards the book, or who comes to stand plumb between you and the picture you are appreciating. Even, between the idea of going to an exhibition and the execution of it, there may fall the shadow of a privatised rail journey.

Sometimes we need to get as close to pictures as we do to books, as I saw at the recent London exhibition of Howard Hodgkin's paintings. The Hayward Gallery was not particularly crowded on the first Monday of January, and it was impossible not to be aware of the way in which, commuting between Hodgkin's tidal brushstrokes of colour (shimmering sealights; the most amazing greens since Chagall; the most arresting oranges, reds and tender pinks since Matisse), nearly all of us viewers were taking a first look at each picture, then stepping forward to stoop and peer, before retiring to undertake a more prolonged scrutiny. We seemed to be behaving like apt objects of study for ...

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