Timothy Taylor Gallery in Mayfair has a penchant for academic exhibitions: shows which, although incredibly interesting, may not sound the most exciting to casual visitors. Hantaï, Hartung, Soulages, Tàpies is one of these shows. The press release is full of artistic referencing – it seems like all the artists exhibited within this show knew Jackson Pollock or took part in a Venice Biennale – and its explanation lacks the sort of poetry that gets the heart pumping. This being said, the works are attractive, but there is a sterility to the gallery that hides the emotion behind the exhibited pieces.
Take, for example, Antoni Tàpies' Gran Materia Amb Petjades (1992); it is a gritty and dense piece. Part of the Art Informal movement, Antoni Tàpies' work abandons the geometric abstraction of the primarily American, aggressive abstract expressionism in favour for an emotionally and intuitively lead art. Gran Materia Amb Petjades is an imposing, large scale mixed-media work which looks like it is made of mud or cement. It is haunting; there are footprints indented into the work's surface, its burnt colouring suggesting a human presence long gone. Archaeological in tone, this work is powerful, but in a white cube setting, amongst a grouping of other large abstract works, the impact is somewhat lost.
On the other end of the scale, Simon Hantaï's works particularly suit the blank walls of Timothy Taylor Gallery. Large scale and brightly coloured, these pieces demonstrate an understanding of pattern and design with a more recognisable aesthetic than Tàpies' pieces. Somewhat reminiscent of Hawaiian shirts, the patterns in Blanc (1973) and Etude (1968) have a fun, lighter tone. Described by a fellow gallery-goer as "colourful dancing figures", there is little of the sense of loss, war, and destruction faced by Europe at the time, hinted at by the press release and depicted in Tàpies' (surprisingly later) works.
The predominant colours within Hantaï, Hartung, Soulages, Tàpies are undoubtedly yellow and navy blue. Bright and commanding, they draw the eye and command attention. The works of Pierre Soulages, on the other hand, are pure black: "ultra black" as he calls them. The beauty of these pieces is in their texture. A sine wave of acrylic paint, deeply applied and layered, dances as you walk around the exhibition. Soulages' pieces are on a much smaller scale than the others in the show, and are the easiest to walk past – the deep black is not as imposing at a simple glance. They are authoritative and unassailable, and need attention on a closer scale.
As a group show, differentiating between the pieces is not the easiest. Colour palettes merge as the multiple large-scale abstract paintings – all fascinating in their own right – do not stand up to being grouped together. "Museum fatigue" – the phenomenon of becoming tired due to the repetitive nature of large museums – has long been commented on in art criticism, but visitors to Timothy Taylor may instead experience "abstract fatigue". I do not wish to infer that any of the artworks on display here are anything less than thought-provoking; however, an academic interest in the selection is necessary to enjoy the show to its fullest. To visit Hantaï, Hartung, Soulages, Tàpies is to visit an exhibition as essay.