Sex. Money. Power. You know what you’re getting with Helmut Newton and as he is the most-represented photographer here you therefore know what you’re getting with Modern Masters, the current selling show at Hamiltons in Mayfair.
When you walk in the first thing you see is the aptly named “Big Nude XII”. Taken in 1993 it does what it says on the tin: it’s huge and she’s naked. And, as is standard with Newton, she is both desirous of being stared at and contemptuous of your gaze. There are a half-dozen Newtons here and they all fit his lusty stereotype: Workers in an office get down to it on a desk, lovers in a park (although this is neat in terms of composition as they occupy so little of the frame) and nudes in a studio.
The Newtons are most directly complemented by the work of Irving Penn. Gisele appears twice. The one of her ‘reading’ (she does this in the nude apparently) is the more eye-catching and beautiful. The tones, lighting, pose and style are almost classical; you don’t feel too grubby for staring. These are on the walls next to Albert Watson’s now-twenty-year-old portrait of Kate Moss. Maybe it’s the ubiquity of Ms Moss but there doesn’t seem to be anything special there.
My favourite in the show is Richard Avedon’s “Shoe” which is pictured above. Sure, it all hinges on a hokey optical illusion but if you’re going to do a hokey optical illusion use the Eiffel tower and a glistening leather shoe (avec pose) that just screams chic and obscenely tasteful affluence.
There are no prices on the ‘price list’ I was given. I know the rules. It means I can’t afford it. This world of in-yer-face sexuality and overt arrogant money is clearly not for me. I can cope with that, but I do like to visit it from time to time.