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"Francis Bacon: Studying Form," installation view, at Faggionato Fine Art

Edward Burra
ca. 1934
at Thomas Gibson Fine Art

Mark Tobey
Robert Sandelson

Mark Tobey
Robert Sandelson

Lucio Fontana
Concetto Spaziali
Ben Brown Fine Arts

Dan Flavin
Bob and Pat Red, Green, and Yellow with Fluorescent Light
Haunch of Venison

Jenny Holzer
Rib Cage
Sprth Magers Lee

Louise Bourgeois
panel 5 from Sublimation
Hauser & Wirth
London Calling
by Joe La Placa with Diana Ewer

Despite the constant hullabaloo attending new art and artists, the market for high modernism is alive and kicking in London.

"Francis Bacon: Studying Form," the new exhibition at Faggionato Fine Art on Abemarle Street, for instance, is a visionary look at one of England's finest painters of the 20th century. Rarely seen in a private gallery, the show features six works ranging in date from 1959 to 1988, accompanied by revealing display of photos Bacon used as aids for his paintings.

Bacon's intuitive alertness to the transformative potential of photography, film stills and mass-mediated imagery greatly influenced his lifelong preoccupation representing the human form. Along with the publication of Martin Harrison's In Camera: Francis Bacon Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting (thames & Hudson), Faggionato Fine Art has achieved a new milestone in Bacon scholarship.

Another example of classic modernism in London is "Works on Paper from Turner to Freud," jointly put on view by Thomas Gibson Fine Art and Leferve Fine Art at their recently re-opened new location on 31 Bruton Street. Consistent with their reputation as two of Londons most distinguished galleries, this breathtaking display features drawings by Degas, Giacometti, Klee, Matisse, Moore, Picasso and other modern masters.

British artist Edward Burra's superb Cabaret (1933-34) also heralds what's soon to come -- a centenary exhibition of Burra's works scheduled for May 2005 at both galleries. And good news for those in the U.S.: After closing in London, Works on Paper travels to the Adelson Galleries in New York.

Over on Cork Street, Mark Tobey's trembling calligraphic webs grace the walls at Robert Sandelson. Comprised of approximately 30 works dating from 1954 to 1970, the show makes clear how Tobey's exquisite blend of East and West greatly influenced Abstract Expressionism. Fascinated with Eastern philosophy, Tobey frequently travelled to the Far East. In 1934 he spent a month in a Zen monastery in Kyoto, Japan, were he studied Zen painting and calligraphy. This lead to the development of his "white writing" style, that would predate Jackson Pollock's all-over, shallow depth compositions.

Down the road at the recently opened Cork Street premises of Ben Brown Fine Arts is a superb exhibition of Lucio Fontana. London has not seen such a comprehensive survey of works by the Italian master since the 1999 show curated by Sarah Whitfeild at the Hayward Gallery. Examples ranging from the 1940s through the mid-'60s still appear invigoratingly fresh, despite being done some 40 ago.

Brown has examples of all of Fontana's great periods. We are treated to early figurative terracotta, pots and wall ceramics; the holes and cuts of various periods of the "Concerto Spaziale" series and two early examples from the "Stones" series (canvases with pieces of colored glass, which Fontana called "stones") that have not been seen publicly for decades.

The real treat was the group of 18 drawings formerly in the collection of Francesco de Bartolomeis, a friend of Fontana's who also wrote some of the most insightful criticism about the artists work. The drawings reveal Fontana's great ability as a draughtsman.

This exhibition is accompanied by a well illustrated catalogue, Lucio Fontana: Paintings, Sculptures and Drawings, produced in collaboration with publisher Skira. It contains an illuminating essay by Enrico Crispoliti, written on the occasion of the centenary of Fontanas birth in 1999.

"Illuminating" can also be used to describe three other exhibitions in the West End. At Haunch of Venison, new light is shed on the early works of Dan Flavin. Coinciding with the artists first full retrospective now touring in America, "Works from the 1960s" brings together a selection of key early developments in the Minimalist masters evolution. Included in the show are rare examples of Flavin's most important works from the "Monuments for V Tatlin" series of monochrome multi-tube compositions.

Flavin's market is strong as ever. His market has come a long way since the early 1960s, when an installation cost roughly $300. The works currently on display at Haunch of Venison range in price from $100,000 to just under $1 million.

At Sprth Magers Lee the gallery lights have been dimmed for Jenny Holzer's optical poetry. The exhibition contains two of Holzer's trademark LED panels, Looming (2004) and Rib Cage (2004), which feature the poems of her friend, the American poet Henri Cole. In Looming, eight LED panels are mounted above each other in decreasing sizes, the poems whizzing past the viewer, rendering them powerless and disorientated.

Holzers new works disrupt the common lexical codes of understanding language, transforming what could be construed as mere exploration of text into something more akin to allegory, a visual equivocation of Cole's ambiguous and emotive poems.

Holzer has manufactured a third unique piece titled Purple Cross, which has earned her first place in the International Pavilion at this year's Venice Biennale.

Louise Bourgeois's Sublimation at Hauser & Wirth gives us an intimate view into the tangled memories of her childhood. Sublimation (2002) is a 15-page mixed media work featuring a fusion of the written word, drawings and sculptures. Originally planed as a book, each panel forms a narrative of Bourgeois's own observation of a couple fighting in the presence of their child. Displacing his emotions into physical form, the child sweeps the floor with a broom. The artist's own memories are brought to the surface, her naive scrawl like a seismometer of a troubled childhood.

For Bourgeois, sublimation is a gift. She ends the book saying I feel that if we are able to sublimate, in any way we do, that we should feel thankful.

JOE LA PLACA is Artnet's London representative.