Sunday, 22 May 2011

Music and Barbarigo

Zoran Music, Grey Figure (1998)

After a quick tour of Tracey Emin’s cluttered and confused retrospective (love is what you want) at the Hayward Gallery, I retreated to the calmer Estorick Collection on Saturday afternoon.

I’m slightly suspicious of the ‘His and Hers’ concept show, but Double Portrait is a fine introduction to the work of two strong artists: Zoran Music and Ida Barbarigo. Music (1909-2005) and Barbarigo (b. 1925) are very distinct in their handling of paint, but elements in the work of both make sense of this double hanging.

The press release, which in places might be mistaken for a HELLO! feature, informs us that Music and Barbarigo married but continued to lead independent lives: ‘They maintained separate apartments, meeting to dine together and to discuss the day’s events each evening.’ I'd love to have eavesdropped on those conversations. Did they analyse his penchant for painting horses? The fact that chairs symbolized all human life to her? Did they discuss their obsession with light – especially the way it occludes as much as it reveals? Did they argue about the progress of yet another double portrait, those great canvasses with tiny, faceless figures representing the artists themselves, slumped lonely and far apart in the shadowy corners of the frame? Did they live apart long enough to justify Music’s grand pronouncements about solitude and silence?

The couple owned studios and apartments in Venice and Paris. Judging from the photographs on show, the Venice studios would not look out of place in a Hollywood film. (The gallery attendant and I compare notes on how green our jealousy.) The handsome couple appear alternately in evening dress and louche dressing gowns. But I welcome this new insight into Music’s life: my previous encounters with his work had been informed solely by my knowledge of his internment in Dachau in 1944-45. (A book on Rembrandt’s etchings, borrowed by Music from the library at Dachau and never returned, is on display.) Many of Music's paintings, such as We are not the last, continued to testify to his experience of the Holocaust. Yet his marriage to Barbarigo indicates another dimension to his life and painting in the years after 1945. Displayed beneath the portrait he painted of Ida soon after they had met, his words on painting are celebratory, if a little nihilistic:

A painting will only work if it is spontaneous, joyful and light. I think that work is like a butterfly, a breath, a mere nothing.

Ida Barbarigo, Portrait of Zoran (1946)

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