nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
I had a bit of a holiday on Saturday and took myself to Birmingham. By dint of finding myself breakfasted, dressed, and with things in the right handbag by 9:40am I headed off for the train in time to fit in several things before the day's main event of a matinee at the theatre.

First stop was the Hall of Memory on Centenary Square, which I might have been inside once bfore, but couldn't and can't remember, whereas I remember walking past it when closed in the evenings or on Sunday on multiple occasions. Next on the civic pride tour was the new central library, which is every bit as impressive as reported*, and a fantastic and usable space. There were other tourists like me, but it was being very well-used. I also walked past the old library, which was in the process of being knocked down and as wrecking machines will, providing much entertainment to random passers-by. It was a good library, but an awful building on all other fronts.

Thence to the Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery and for an exhibition on minor pre-Raphaelite, E.R. Hughes. Hughes is definitely a minor figure, but it was a well put-together exhibition and passed a pleasant hour. He was a considerably better draughtsman than some of the major pre-Raphaelites**, and there were some very fine portraits of children, highly individual and sensitive, but unsentimental, but though teenage me actually bought a postcard of Hughes' Midsummer Eve, adult me is unconvinced.

Finally to the main event, New Adventures' Sleeping Beauty at the Hippodrome. I saw this on television a couple of years ago at Christmas when lying on the sofa recuperating from norovirus, so my memory was that it was very good, but a bit vague as to detail. Having failed to get myself to it in London, I picked up a return ticket and headed off for a terrific view from the centre of row 5 of the dress circle, a reminder that a good ticket is really worth it. Subtitled "A Gothic Romance", it is fair to say that the cleverness of the production lies in the conceit, and the choreography is less exciting than Bourne's Swan Lake, at least to this amateur viewer.*** But the conceit of Edwardianish palace to the modern day, happy young love with the gardener's boy, vengeful fairy, and unexpected good(?) vampires is very clever, and the whole thing is a wonderfully entertaining couple of hours. Bourne is an excellent storyteller. The sole downside is that it has a recorded score, nothing unusual in ballet, I know, but I prefer the real thing. I like to hang over the railing at the interval and count the double basses.


*And the government's slashing funding so the council has had to cut services every bit as shameful as reported.

**Rossetti really, really wasn't a good man with a pencil.

***Nor does it have Adam Cooper as the black swan, the man for whom, as Deborah Bull put it in introducing the televised version, the word phwoar was invented.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
Walking between Oxford Street on Piccadilly on Saturday because I couldn't face the thought of hopping on the tube, I found myself passing a window giving on to a large space with a shark in it. Specifically, a dead shark in a tank. My keen mind swiftly perceived that it was (a) some sort of art exhibition, and (b) despite having no name, opening hours, or general indications of welcome, it was open to the public. I went in. Or rather, I pushed fruitlessly at the door and then the doorman let me in.

It turned out, as a woman hastened over with a leaflet, perhaps in case I was considerably richer than I looked, to be this exhibition: The Big Blue. AKA art influenced by the sea. And it was - OK. There was a Picasso, that I wasn't really fussed about, and a very good Bacon, and a Courbet that was not conducive to the idea of a nice paddle even to one who spent childhood holidays on the Yorkshire coast, but frankly it was all about the shark.

The shark - was a pickled shark. I will admit not to knowing a great deal about contemporary art. I like some, dislike others. It seems to me that shark 1 (The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living) is exciting because of the idea, and I think that it is a good idea. Weird, yes, but interesting. But when what is exciting is the idea, repeating the idea is not exciting. If picked shark 1 is art, pickled shark 2 seems to me essentially an anatomy exhibit. Anatomy exhibits can be interesting; I enjoy spending a rainy lunchtime looking at jars of dead sea creatures in the natural history museum. But they don't really feel like art.
nineveh_uk: picture of holly in snow (holly)
The afternoons of first and second Saturdays of December were spent at a couple of exhibitions*. They were both very good, but it is fair to say that they were not the same, though both certainly made me think.

(1) Death: a Self-Portrait. This was an exhibition at the Wellcome Collection ("a free destination for the incurably curious") drawn from the private collection of one man, and on the theme of Death. Heavy on the skulls and skeletons, it was justly busy. For me, three pieces stood out, for different reasons.

(i) in 'The Dance of Death' room ("focus on the universal certainty of death, regardless of status in life"), a collection of painted pottery figurines, each depicting Death and a [member of social group/profession], with a little poem in German. They appeared to be collectibles, the early-mid C19 equivalent of the little pottery cottages sold at the back of Radio Times, with the skeletal death having a penchant for appropriately-themed silly hats. Quite a lot of the exhibition was really rather funny, a good portion of that intentional.

(ii) the same room, a giant skull produced by an Argentinian artists' collective, and constructed entirely of plasticine. I'm not entirely sure how Hansel and Gretel are oppressing the rightful Argentine ownership of the Falkland Islands, but at 6' high it's a stunning object, far more 3D than the photograph conveys.

(iii) in 'Violent Death', a series of prints by Otto Dix. I hadn't heard of Dix before; he was a German artist who produced the prints in 1924, drawing on his experience of WWI. Though far from the most grisly pieces in the exhibition, they were, for me, probably the most disturbing. They share the room with two other "horrors of war" print series, one by Goya, one depicting the Thirty Years' War**, and depict the dead, the dying, and the corrupted and horrible landscape of the trenches. They are just awful to look at.

(2) Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde. After a diversion to see John Martin's Last Judgment triptych, my mother and I went to see this exhibtion at the Tate, being unreconstructed enjoyers of the Pre-Raphs. It was fabulous, eight rooms, stuffed full of the famous paintings, the less famous ones that set them in context, and other people's famous paintings also setting them in context, and finally seeing the real thing I at last got the point of the Scapegoat***. They had everything, having apparently stripped the walls of the UK's provincial art galleries****, not to mention private collections: Rossetti's Annunciation, and Girlhood of Mary Virgin (AKA "the one in which she looks like a sourpuss"), and later "stunners". The bed I saw in the spring at Morris's house at Kelmscott. A goodly collection of Burne-Jones, including King Cophetua and some terrific tapestries. Extraordinary examples of art and craft, though I am sorry to say that Lizzie Siddell couldn't draw.


*Not the least pleasing aspect of which was that I was not completely wiped-out on Sunday.

**Another period of history I know almost nothing about except that it was very nasty.

***Apparently Holman Hunt not only went to the Dead Sea, but used a real dying goat.

****Mum and I did a lot of "we've seen that one in Birmingham".
nineveh_uk: photo of lava (volcano)
Too complicated to paste over from LJ, so I'm linking to my report of the Tate's Exhibition John Martin: Apolcalyse here.

Short version: great stuff, and if you've ever seen Star Wars, any sword and sandals film, or read a book with a misty fantasy or science fiction on the cover, you've seen a work influenced by Martin.



This is the painting I particularly went to see: Pandemonium.

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