The David Hockney retrospective that recently closed at Tate Britain was one of the highlights of my art year -- and not because I'd interviewed the artist months earlier. There were so many visual treats, despite the hodge-podge nature of the presentation, and the inclusion of a few dud paintings. I was sure I'd never again see that incredible room of double portraits.
Well, I saw it again yesterday - in Paris, and in the Pompidou's version of the retrospective, which turns out to be even better than the Tate version. To start with, the spaces are wider and airier, making the room of double portraits even more of a knock-out. Beyond that, curator Didier Ottinger -- one of the Pompidou's big names -- has done what he's supposed to do: curate, choose, select, weed out. The resulting assortment is more coherent, more thought through, and more beautiful.
There is one huge room of pool paintings, a symphony in blue. There's a much larger quantity of drawings, showcasing Hockney's incredible draugtsmanship. And there is that mammoth wonder from the Tate's own collections: 'Bigger Trees on Warter' (2006), a massive grid of juxtaposed canvases representing the woods of Yorkshire. (Why wasn't that at Tate Britain, I wonder?)
The other strong point of the Pompidou show are the wall texts. Ottinger actually makes you see correlations between Hockney and past masters such as Piero Della Francesca, or Vermeer, or Dubuffet, or Balthus. He gets you to look beyond the surface explosions of color and notice how art history is referenced by Hockney every step of the way. That's what exhibitions are supposed to do.
The weakest parts of the show are the Polaroids - the images look yellow in the dimmed room - and the iPhone and iPad paintings, which are few and far between. No doubt Ottinger thought they weren't masterpieces, and he's right. But technology influenced Hockney hugely, and should have been represented more.
That's a small gripe compared to the overall joy of the Pompidou show. I will go back, and back again, until it closes in October. Meanwhile, Hockney turns 80 this weekend, so wishing him a Happy 80th.