Tuesday, June 29, 2010

And it's all over


Yep the England team have just arrived home, sneaking into Heathrow terminal 5, earlier than expected. Some Mars bars are suddenly beyond their sell-by date.

Yes I'm a sucker for hype and advertising! I bought my Mars bar before Sunday though - couldn't bear the thought of buying one after the defeat at Germany's hands.

But on the theme of chocolate - OMG! A Bailey's truffel bar! Oh my groaning waistband . . . what fresh hell is this?

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Katie Mitchell’s production for the ENO grew on me as the evening went on, but the thought did arise watching the grand beige minimalist mid-century modern hotel lobby that masquerades as the Palace of King Idomeneo that updating opera productions to weird and wonderful times and locations (the Dr Who approach, if you like) has become too easy a default setting for modern producers.

Set designers Vicki Mortimer and Alex Eales do it well, but the minimalism is skin deep - the production presents multiple complicated sets (there’s an airport with executive and cattle class lounges; the palace garden becomes a screening room), with ambitious set changes for the backstage crew in between. Loud clunks and bangs from behind the fire curtain heralded the arrival of the final scene.

It would almost be more original going back to basics and doing an Idomeneo with authentic 18th-century costumes. The original Idomeneo Anton Graaf had a fantastic rococo fantasy of a costume. Can you imagine the sea monster? It can’t be right to do a production where the traditional (and let’s face it, scripted) sea monster does not appear. But alas, exact mid-century modern equivalents for sea monsters were not available to the designers, and the monster was cut (the interval crowd at the ice cream stall was highly indignant). In mitigation, the ENO does a truly memorable storm scene.

The orchestra led by Edward Gardner and the chorus were absolutely superb. I enjoyed all the leads too, with special honours to Emma Bell as the spoiled, seductive and insane Princess Electra.

English National Opera
Coliseum 18 June - 19 July 2010

Tate à Tate: Arshile Gorky, Theo Van Doesburg, Henry Moore and Chris Ofilli

A post which went lost and missing earlier this year!

April was a lovely month for visits from far-flung friends. One of my
very dearest friends was in London on a lap of honour the last couple of weeks before a significant milestone. It was fantastic spending time with her and catching up. We had excellent, sociable meals here and here. She was whisked away to a country spa for a few days, but was back in Londres for an afternoon of hitting the Tates.

I had not seen any of the temporary exhibitions, so it seemed like a plan. We decided to start at Tate Modern and take the Tate-to-Tate boat upstream to Tate Britain.

Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective

To be honest I couldn’t really remember much about Arshile Gorky from my Art History studies – other than he seemed to be a second-ranking Abstract Expressionist. This show bears that impression out – it contains copious quantities of rather dull and derivative surrealism-based abstraction – all bar one room, which is by far the most impressive.

Poor Gorky had a desperately unhappy and tragic life – his father left Turkey for America when the future artist was little more than a baby; he and his remaining family had to flee Turkey during the Armenian Genocide and in the aftermath his mother died of starvation in Russia while Gorky was still a teenager.

Many years later he came across a photograph of himself and his mother from this time and used it as the basis for a series of portraits and paintings: without doubt masterpieces all. Tender, sombre and tragic – a supreme memorial. I responded to these so much more than to the abstracts – several of which were beautiful, but mostly just seemed professional and competent. One wonders if Gorky was in the wrong place at the wrong time – he was a brilliant figurative artist in a New York art world in thrall exclusively to Abstraction.  And it turns out my half-memory was wrong – it was Gorky apparently who lit that Abstract Impressionist fuse. But in retrospect his artistic heirs overshadow him.

Arshile Gorky
Tate Modern
10 February - 3 May 2010

Van Doesburg and the International Avant-Garde: Constructing a New World

Van Doesburg was a founder member of the Avant-Garde and crossed swords with the Bauhaus (before the Bauhaus succumbed to his vision). The title of the show definitely describes it well - his ambition was definitely to construct a new world. The exhibition contains examples of his typographic work, furniture design and architecture as well as painting. The typography still looks modern. This show is hugely fun and very absorbing.

Van Doesburg and the International Avant-Garde: Constructing a New World
Tate Modern
4 February - 16 May 2010

Chris Ofilli

Both of us are Chris Ofili fans and were looking forward to this one with anticipation. A retrospective, especially a first one, is a tricky event for an artist - can the body of work sustain the hype?

Ofili is undoubtedly the real thing - stunning paintings and ambitious ensembles; very sensitive drawings too.

Chris Ofilli
Tate Britain
27 January - 16 May 2010

Henry Moore

This show looks very handsome - the sculptures are arranged against beautiful coloured walls. It’s very refreshing to see Moore’s more intimate pieces.
Henry Moore
Tate Britain
24 February - 8 August 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Grace Kelly - Style Icon at the V&A

"I am very happy that Grace has found herself such a good part" - Alfred Hitchcock

Grace Kelly’s film career ended when she was 27 upon her marriage to Prince Ranier of Monaco, and thereafter she lived the life of a European Princess – atoning for her privilege by doing good works while dressed in haute couture. But not acting. A rumoured comeback in 1962 was quickly denied. And thereafter one of the most notable film actresses of her generation did not act in films. Like Garbo before her, she absented herself at the peak of her career: unlike Garbo Grace remained centre stage for life.

The wedding of the Prince and the actress was incredibly glamorous and hopeful at the time – a symbol of an alliance between an America maturing into easy sophistication with a shattered Europe reinventing itself after the cataclysm of war. Joy was returning to the nations, even if we still had rationing.

But the dutiful timeline in the V&A’s exhibition brochure tells a more melancholy story – pre 1956, classic films with Alfred Hitchcock - an Oscar for Best Actress; post 1956 – this ball and that ball; cutting this ribbon or that ribbon. And this room full of pretty frocks, so dismally failing to conjure a sense of the woman.

Post Diana and Charles we are used to examining the cracks in the magicked up veneer of "happily ever after" - the newsreel footage showing an interview with Ranier on their engagement reminds one forcefully of Charles's ominously wooden public declaration of love: "Yes, whatever that may mean". Grace acts her part to perfection but there is no screen chemistry with her prince. And the rest is couture.

Grace Kelly: Style Icon
Victoria & Albert Museum
running to 26 September 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Muffin Man


Emma inducted me into the secret society of Muffin Man devotees this weekend. This cosy teashop blushes unseen just off that orgy of consumerism that is the Kensington High Street - it’s a quietly seductive little slice of Ye Olde England: original retro, not the expertly designed ironic kind. Imagine a country teashop circa 1955; a haven of peace to meditate on the eternal verities of fresh, tasty cakes and perfectly brewed, real tea in china teapots. And scones. Weighed down with cream and jam.

The place was full but relaxed and our waitress was friendly and the kitchen obliging - Emma doesn’t do tomato so they substituted without fuss avocado in our high tea sandwiches, which arrived promptly. Emma’s passion cake was light and high-keyed with bright spicy flavours; my Queen Mother’s cake (walnut and date; hold the gin) was topped with seriously toffee-ish black sugar icing. Both were absorbing enough to command our full attention despite the fact Brian May and Anita Dobson were having tea at the next table. No doubt they were as impressed as we were with the very reasonable prices for the scrumptious tea.

The Muffin Man is a delightful oasis to sit and gossip and recharge for a further bout of serious shopping on the High Street, it is now high on my list of favourite London places. Thanks Emma!

Details for The Muffin Man are on my Qype review

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Adventures in Wonderland


Alice arrived in a Clapham wonderland earlier this month as Trinity Hospice welcomed Londoners to its garden open day in aid of the NGS.

The afternoon was themed as an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ family fun-day with entertainers, including magicians and costumed stilt walkers for children, stalls to browse and drinks and light refreshments. All in the setting of the magical and beautiful English country style gardens.

Friday, June 11, 2010

World Cup Fever Hits Clapham!

The World Cup starts today - here's hoping for a massively successful tournament for the host nation, South Africa, and let's hope the England team can overcome their somewhat fractious beginning and do us proud.

Am I dreaming that flag mania seems to increase with every World Cup? The colourful bunting definitely adds to the jollity of the Nation, even if one isn't a fan of the football. Some Clapham pubs are joining in the festivities - most impressively The Alexandria.

Which admittedly has the most impressive frontage to begin with.

Well done Alexandria!

Revolution on Clapham High Street has put a wall of flags behind their double story glass facade, which results in some interesting photographic effects.

Let's hope that mysterious throbbing neon zero in the centre of the USA flag is an omen for the match against England on Saturday.

And over in Clapham Old Town, even posh florists Birksen are getting in on the act.

The good old Prince of Wales goes for traditional bunting as well as a St George's flag.

Well, Clapham is all behind England! Go team!

Saturday, June 05, 2010

My Eurovision Winnings


Well this year’s Eurovision wasn’t all bad - in fact, Good Luck alert! I won some wireless Sennheiser headphones in Acediscovery’s Eurovision competition. To enter you had to guess the winning score (not the winner). Just as well I am better at predicting scores than guessing winners. My favourites Sweden failed to qualify.

They arrived this morning (the headphones, that is, not Sweden) and I plugged them in immediately. Totally enjoying the freedom of moving around the flat untethered by cables.