Family Affair


Left: Artist Tim Gardner and Veronica Schriber. Right: Dealer Stuart Shave with Tate curator Stuart Comer. (All photos: Lillian Davies)

Although we’d never met, Charles Saumarez Smith, director of the National Gallery, greeted me with kisses as I arrived through the grand portico entrance for the opening of “Tim Gardner: New Works.” Clearly, love was in the air, and for this intimate gathering in room one of the Trafalgar Square institution, a charming space the size of a living room, friends and relatives were gathering to admire Gardner’s landscapes and portraits. I met Gardner’s father, Jim, who introduced me to his wife, sons, nieces, and nephews, all of whom had traveled from Canada to celebrate. Gardner himself graciously talked me through the works at the National Gallery that had inspired him during his three-month residency in the summer of 2005—Turner’s cloud studies, Monet’s landscapes, and Rubens’s skies—and admitted that, upon arriving in London to work, he had wanted to “get away from portraiture.” As if describing cabin fever, he recalled a desire to “get out of the studio . . . and out into the world.”

Saumarez Smith called the room to attention to introduce the artist-in-residence program, emphasizing the transition that Gardner signals as the first non-British artist to participate since the scheme began in 1979. Saumarez Smith has tweaked the program in other ways, perhaps in an attempt to catch up with what Barbara Hopkins of the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation, a major patron of the arts in Britain, described as the precedent set by “the maverick down the road, Nick Serota.” Things momentarily took a surreal turn as David Lammy, British minister of culture, addressing the growing crowd, endorsed the “virtues of the New World—sublime landscapes and masculinity”—that he saw in Gardner’s paintings and drawings.

Left: Artist Nigel Cooke with Barbara Hopkins of the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation. Right: British minister of culture David Lammy.

On my way to the nearby room where guests migrated for drinks, I ran into an ebullient Christopher Riopelle, curator of the exhibition, in front of Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors. Riopelle described the way in which Gardner channeled works in the National Gallery’s collections into his own practice as “osmosis”—a process realized through “oblique references to historic works, but always in modern terms.” Surrounded by the sixteenth-century masterpieces of room nine, I found Stuart Shave, who claimed that this was his “first time to ever wear a tie”—an exceptional skinny Day-Glo number. A few months after seeing Gardner’s work at Shave’s London gallery, Riopelle asked him to bring over some of the artist’s work to present to the residency-selection committee. “No JPEGs, no PowerPoint,” Shave explained, as if describing the strange rituals of an ancient tribe.

In the National Gallery dining room, where we were soon escorted for dinner, I found Lonti Ebers, president of the Power Plant in Toronto, who lamented that it’s close to impossible to get ahold of Gardner’s work in his native country—it's “snapped up too quickly by international collectors.” Painter Nigel Cooke explained that when he was in art school, Leon Kossoff, now enjoying the studio space and museum access Gardner did, was simply “not cool.” Tom Windross, from the museum’s publishing department, thought maybe it was a generational thing: Today, “the kids are after anything Kossoff.” (I can’t say I’ve heard the same.) During a round of teary-eyed toasts at meal’s end, the Canadian high commissioner’s wife proclaimed that Gardner’s work made her “proud to be a Canadian,” and I heard someone exclaim, “This is like a wedding!” Indeed.

Left: National Gallery director Charles Saumarez Smith with publisher Louise T. MacBain and National Gallery curator Christopher Riopelle. Right: Jim Gardner, the artist's father.

Left: Lonti Ebers, president of the Power Plant in Toronto, with Frieze's Matthew Slotover. Right: Louise Spence, chair of Canada House Arts Trust, with Donna Thomson.