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Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, No. 24. October 1, 1968

Art — Sex: meat of lectures


Sex: meat of lectures

The Chancellor's Lectures commenced in 1963, when Sir Herbert Read was invited to give a series of four lectures on various aspects of the visual arts. This deep and thought provoking series set an extremely high standard, bringing us into the world of the great in art. Although many of us had heard his lectures, had read his writings, heard his talks on the radio, there was no mention of his recent death in our Press, nor any tribute to him on the radio. I wonder how much impact the visit of this brilliant English writer, lecturer, and critic really had. Certainly those who heard him had many doors opened for them, and gained immeasurably in their understanding of art.

Sir Basil Spence, the well-known British architect of Coventry Cathedral, Sussex University and many other famous buildings, gave the next series of Chancellor's Lectures on the visual arts. He, too, revealed the depth of his knowledge and understanding in his four brilliant and unforgettable lectures on architecture.

Now, in 1968, we have Robert Melville, an English art critic and writer for the New Statesman. At time of writing he has given two lectures in the series. His first lecture on Surrealism dealt mainly with Chirico and Dali, pointing out some aspects in the work of these artists that many of us had not thought of before—but I, for one, would doubt their validity. I enjoyed his wit and the interesting slides showing some works that we had not seen before. A disappointing feature of the first evening was the poor slide projection, which I am sure must have been disconcerting to Mr Melville and was certainly disappointing for the audience.

Mr Melville's second, rather short, lecture on British Expressionism and Abstractionism began with a brief mention of Philip King, the contemporary English sculptor, and Bridget Riley, the well-known modern abstractionist. These artists were the two principal British representatives at the Venice Biennale, and he told us that they were the two most outstanding artists in Britain today. Certainly Bridget Riley has popular appeal, judging by the copying of her design on dress and furnishing fabrics, but the mixture of the mathematical and the intuitive in her work remains fiercely individual. The slides shown of the work of Philip King—"Genghis Khan", "The Birds Began To Sing" and "Through 1965"—all flow in a continuous form allowing involvement with the work, described as a confrontation rather than a representation. Most of the second lecture, however, was devoted to Francis Bacon, undoubtedly an extremely able painter. One may not enjoy the paintings, which consist mainly of nudes and portraits of neurotic individuals, because of the subject matter, but let's not confuse this with his artistic ability.

I found Mr Melville's lectures instructive, humorous, but rather flippant. Most of the time he seemed to be preoccupied with sexual interpretations in the work of the artists that he selected. One almost felt that perhaps he hoped to shock because we are rather distant from the scene of contemporary art. The substance of his first two lectures can hardly be compared with that of Read and Spence.

Robert Melville: shock Down Under.

Robert Melville: shock Down Under.