Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Byzantium at the Royal Academy

Once again, I broke my rule of never going on the last day . . . but forgot about this one until Catriona reminded me and we caught it on the final Saturday.

Byzantium is wonderfully exotic - a heritage we in Western Europe share only though a distant kinship at best; it feels exotic, romantic, rich and strange. I studied the Byzantines in history of art, and we concentrated particularly on architecture, one of the glories of Byzantine culture and the most obvious of their developments away from the Roman tradition. The Byzantine Church developed a total aesthetic which aimed to immerse the worshipper in an all-pervading religious atmosphere, and the RA exhibition did not really go anywhere near getting this across.

Architecture was pretty much ignored; instead we had loads and loads of Byzantine bits and pieces, separated out into categories of object. Much of this was quite spectacular - the quality of the items was superb - but the whole unfortunately was less than the sum of the parts.

Part of this was the unfortunate queueing system imposed by having a series of display cases lined up with tiny objects and tinier and hard-to-read labels. There was a lot of amazing bling, but all small scale. The largest piece was a tiered hanging candelabra from Munich - about 25 feet in diameter and greater in height. This was in the entrance to the show and that was that.

That candelabra would have lit an ambiguously vaulted space crowded with glittering mosaics - mosaics specially angled to catch and refract the light. There would have been incense burners and gorgeous chanting choirs to bathe all the senses. It would have been amazing. The show completely lacked that sort of excitement.

The British Museum’s latest shows have used multimedia to great effect, and I don’t see why the RA couldn’t have done the same here. I think the subject was crying out for it - and a video screen or two surely can’t be so expensive? As it was, a very worthy effort, but it felt slightly dated in its presentation.

a walk on the common

The Gerhard Richter on my wall . . .

Van Dyck at Tate Britain

“This sumptuous exhibition brings together some of the most magnificent paintings by Belgian-born painter Sir Anthony van Dyck, startlingly portraying many of the leading characters of the Stuart period.” - the advertising hook for the Tate’s current Van Dyck exhibition.

I disagree. The Tate’s Van Dyck exhibition is slghtly underwhelming - it feels almost provisional, as if it was hastily arranged in celebration of the Tate’s recent acquisition of Rubens’s Banqueting Hall sketch. Rubens being Van Dyck’s master and Van Dyck being thus partly the reason for the national collection of British art buying a foreign artist’s work. The Royal Academy had a Van Dyck show relatively recently, and it truly felt sumptuous - this one perhaps is missing too many of the great Royal pieces, concentrating mostly on the court paintings (and some of those overfamiliar, from the National Gallery and even another outing for two paintings the Tate showed last year in the Orientalism show, of Charles I’s ambassador to Persia and his wife (hung on the opposite wall in this one). The show never seems to come to a considered argument about the artist’s work - it just hangs what it can on the walls and ‘celebrates’.

A room focussing on the painter’s private life - his wife and mistress - is the highlight. The last couple of rooms chronicle Van Dyck’s posthumous influence, and seem to suggest that any old portrait painted in Britain in the last few centuries was somehow indebted to Van Dyck, filling the walls as it does with random examples of same. Weak and unconvincing.

I was fascinated by ladies fashions as displayed in the portraits. All the men seem individuated, but all the women conform to a very strict type. They all wear double-drop pearl ear rings and a single rope of pearls. They all wear their hair in very tight ringlets around the face.

Does this truly reflect the fashion of the time? If so, it remained remarkably stable throughout Van Dyck’s career (and into the careers of his immediate followers) - unlike the contemporary fashions for men. I can’t quite believe this. Could it be that this was simply the way he chose to portray women? - and that he had a pair of prop ear rings and a pearl necklace hanging around his studio? Weird.

Monday, March 30, 2009

the miracles of modern technology

I. Want. An. Apple. iPhone. Now!!!!

Wild Things

You must take a look at the Italian photographer Giacomo Brunelli’s site. His use of monochrome is gorgeous; but his retro technique (analogue photos taken on a 1968 Miranda Sensomat camera) is at the service of an original eye for the wildness of the domestic pet. Lush, romantic, sometimes sentimental - but with an edge of animal violence and unknowability. LOLcats these are not. Considering the technique, astonishing captures of fugitive moments.

via Andrew Sullivan and Creative Review.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I spy with my little eye . . .

Yay for the vernal equinox! - Spring is busting out all over on Clapham Common, with sun-happy commoners soaking up the rays. Hard to believe just weeks ago we were all frolicking in the snow. I’m just back from a quick sortie to Sainsbury’s to pick up some fruit (just off a stressed 36 hours) and the Guardian. Just enough time to share some blog love with you all before heading off to the Royal Academy to meet Catriona and the Byzantines.

Guess who I saw in Sainbury’s?? Vivienne Westwood, that’s who!!! Amazing! Of course always knew La Westwood lived in Clapham but never in a million gazillion years did I think I would bump into her at Sainsbury’s. She was buying flowers and lots of fruit and vegetables. She was reusing shopping bags!

She was wearing a rather gorgeous lime green coat, and had beautiful glasses (own brand? - couldn’t tell). I pass over her footwear in silence.

Yep, unfortunately I spent my time in the queue scoping her out (I hope relatively discreetly) - I did however manage to refrain from asking for her autograph or a mobile phone photo.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Who knew? Apparently Time magazine regards this comic book as one of the 100 best novels written since 1923.

This factoid, as well as the exquisite trailer (Ok - especially the part with Billy Crudup as the nuclear-infused, cerulean blue, totally naked and hot Dr Manhattan) prompted me to see the movie. I haven’t read the book.

It’s had mixed reviews. Dr Manhattan’s blue penis provoked particular comment in the USA (Did I mention Dr Manhattan spends a large amount of the movie starkers?) Us Euros are clearly far more relaxed about such matters. Apparently, in the book the penis is quite small, like a grecian statue’s. The problems of translating this to screen are obvious. On the one side, male nudity is still taboo in the culture. On the other, one has the vanity of the actor to respect. The result is, the CGI penis on screen is massively larger than that drawn for Dr Manhattan in the novel, but the filmakers are quite subtle in its deployment. It doesn’t call attention to itself at all. I think this is a positive approach and quite healthy.

The length (almost 3 hours) didn’t bother me (you didn't think I was still talking about the big blue penis, did you?)- although the storyline did lack pace. I applaud the sophisticated, indirect, flashback style of explication. Classically, one of the problems of this style is its potential to stall the plot. I don’t think that was entirely the case here - the plot stalls mostly because the director Zack Snyders can't resist showcasing the beautiful design and the camera just spends too much time on the scenery (which admittedly is gorgeous - one of the real triumphs of the film; it kept me going through the 3 hours). Also, Snyders said in an interview that he ramped up the sex and violence - again, gratuitously lengthy fight sequences keep the plot from moving forward and actually sometimes actively distract from important plot points: the framing for murder of Rorschach, for example, is almost lost in the lengthy violence of his arrest.

Never have I seen a more excrutiatingly embarrassing sex scene - so bad the audience giggled. The silver lining is that surely this will now end the screen career of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” - the most clunkingly blatant and intrusive of a screed of banal music choices. Overfamiliar music just calls attention to itself and once again distracts from the action, slowing the whole thing down.

The graphic novel is a product of the late cold war, and was regarded in its day as innovative. The morally complex, dark universe is certainly a rich context for the story (one thinks of Hamlet, or the work of Graham Greene). However, complexity here becomes confusion: I lost interest in the issues at stake for the characters and the climax left me completely uninvolved. I don’t know how much of this is inherent in the original book and how much is the adaptation’s fault.

Catch it on a large screen if you can - the visuals demand it. The BFI Imax screen was amazing.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Testing . . . testing . . .

Aha! At last a really quite decent test to take, and one I did quite well in! Hoorah!

Your result for The Commonly Confused Words Test...

English Genius

You scored 100% Beginner, 100% Intermediate, 80% Advanced, and 87% Expert!

You did so extremely well, even I can't find a word to describe your excellence! You have the uncommon intelligence necessary to understand things that most people don't. You have an extensive vocabulary, and you're not afraid to use it properly! Way to go!

Thank you so much for taking my test. I hope you enjoyed it!

For the complete Answer Key, visit my blog: http://shortredhead78.blogspot.com/.

Take The Commonly Confused Words Test
at HelloQuizzy

Now, why is it exactly I can't play scrabble??!

Friday, March 06, 2009

green custard!

Hmmm. I agree with protesting the third runway*. And it is true I have found direct action amusing before - the shoes thrown at President Bush, for example. But green custard over Mandy? I found it surprisingly upsetting. Green = poison, not custard, usually. It must have been frightening for Lord Mandelson on a personal level. It's just too premeditated and contrived and stalkerish and spooky. There are easier ways to laugh at our politicians.

On the other hand, props to protestor Leila Deen for her articulate defence of her action on the BBC. I wonder if Plane Stupid activists are given media training?

*Astonishing fact: I've lived in various abodes the length and breadth of Battersea and Clapham - however, wherever I've been, I have always been directly under a flight path. How can that actually happen? And the new runway is bound to make things worse.