Just outside the door of the National Gallery’s original shop, where enthusiasts looking for ways to remind themselves of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers when seated in their dining rooms in Catford or Greenwich or Maidenhead can buy cushions, place mats and coasters imprinted with the image of the painting itself, which lives quietly here in Room 43, you find yourself staring down into a handsome stairwell. This is the Annenberg Court.
The three soaring walls enclosing that courtyard are currently hosting a fairly evenly spaced rash of floating grey, green and brown dots set against white by Bridget Riley called Messengers. Damien Hirst? enquires my companion. Close, but no.
The panel on the wall describing this work refers to some of its possible visual sources inside the gallery, which may include various paintings containing images of angels and clouds. It concludes by offering up to us a gobbet of space-filling, pseudo-intellectual windbaggery of a fairly high order which reads as follows: By leaving afterimages on the beholder’s retina that suggest volume and movement the longer it is perceived, the work becomes a tribute to its artistic predecessors and to the process of looking at art itself.
In what sense can seeing the afterimage which is the direct result of having staring for far too long at a wall of coloured discs be in any sense a tribute to the great artists in this gallery which preceded Bridget Riley?
Furthermore, how can the presence of that probably slightly irritating after-image (if it exists at all) be regarded as a tribute to the process of looking at art itself? At the very least a Phd is called for to explain this nonsense a little more fully.