Arts

Crazy horses: Andy Scott’s Kelpies at sunset

The Spectator declares war on bad public art

Arts feature

Like peace, love and lemon-meringue pie, ‘public art’ seems unarguably attractive. Who but a philistine curmudgeon would deny the populace access to the immediate visual thrills and the enduring solace of beauty that the offer of public art seems to… Read more

Don’t mock the schlock: from left to right: Taking Care of Business Ring designed by Elvis and Priscilla Presley; presidential cufflinks; gold phone

We all live like Elvis now

Exhibitions

In the giftshop at the new Elvis exhibition at the Dome, you can buy your own version of his flared white jumpsuits. I can’t think of anyone who could wear one and not look ridiculous — particularly if they had… Read more

‘The Great Elm at Lacock’, 1843–45, by William Henry Fox Talbot

Sculpture Victorious at Tate Britain reviewed: entertainingly barmy

Exhibitions

In the centre of the new exhibition Sculpture Victorious at Tate Britain there is a huge white elephant. The beast is not, I should add, entirely colourless. On the contrary, it has a howdah richly decorated in gold and green,… Read more

‘Two Figures in a Room’, 1959, by Francis Bacon

The dos and don’ts of the Russian art scene

Arts

Mark Hudson travels to St Petersburg to see how the nihilism of Bacon goes down in Russia

Jennifer Lopez sets her sights on the boy next door

The Boy Next Door reviewed: a terrible new J-Lo movie that's disturbingly enjoyable

Cinema

Stateside critics, who panned Jennifer Lopez’s new film The Boy Next Door on its US release last month, may be unaware of the ability of the British to enjoy a film so bad it’s almost good. I suspect many Brits… Read more

How I Learned to Drive at Southwark Playhouse

Muswell Hill reviewed: a guide on how to sock it to London trendies

Theatre

Torben Betts is much admired by his near-namesake Quentin Letts for socking it to London trendies. Letts is one of the few individuals who enjoys the twin blessings of a Critics’ Circle membership card and a functioning brain so his… Read more

Flamenco Festival at Sadlers Wells Photo: Josep Aznar

A legendary piece of iconoclastic dance returns. Does the piece still stand up?

Dance

Funny how things turn upside-down with time. A work of contemporary dance that made an iconoclastic splash decades ago is revived today, exactly as it was, as if it were a museum piece. Yet more long-standing dance traditions — such… Read more

Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi Photo: Bill Cooper

Opera North's Gianni Schicchi and La vida breve reviewed: a flawless double helping of verismo

Opera

Is there a more beautiful aria than ‘O mio babbino caro’ from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi? There are more overwhelming moments in opera, to be sure, but few arias can rival it for the way its beauty kicks you in the… Read more

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There’s nothing wrong with getting into Thomas Tallis on the back of Fifty Shades of Grey

Music

Great works of art may have a strange afterlife. Deracinated from the world that created them they are at the mercy of what people think is important centuries later. Nothing shows this more clearly than the contribution that Tallis’s ‘Spem… Read more

The cast of Critical

Critical on Sky1 reviewed: a new medical drama where everyone radiates an unusual degree of competence and concern

Television

Sky1’s new hospital drama Critical (Tuesday) can’t be accused of making a timid start. Within seconds, an urgent request had come over the loudspeaker system for ‘the trauma corps’ to head to the emergency department, causing the main members of… Read more

US President Theodore Roosevelt's teddy bear Photo: Getty

The pleasures and perils of podcast listening

Radio

No phrase is better calculated to tense the neck muscles of a regular podcast listener than ‘We have something special for you now.’ Having your radio shows downloaded to your phone, music player or computer, rather than plucked out of… Read more

Wings of desire: film still of Natalia Makarova and Anthony Dowell in ‘Swan Lake’, 1980

Will the real Swan Lake please stand up

Arts feature

It is the end of an era — the Royal Ballet’s extravagant Fabergé-egg Swan Lake production by Anthony Dowell is on its last legs. When this 28-year-old production finishes the current run on 9 April, that will be it for… Read more

‘Group with Parasols’, c.1904, by John Singer Sargent

Sargent, National Portrait Gallery, review: he was so good he should have been better

Exhibitions

The artist Malcolm Morley once fantasised about a magazine that would be devoted to the practice of painting just as some publications are to — say — cricket. It would be filled with articles extolling feats of the brush, rather… Read more

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La Donna del Lago, Metropolitan Opera, review: Colm Toibin on a night of masterful singing

Opera

La Donna del Lago, based on a poem by Sir Walter Scott, is one of the nine serious, dramatic operas that Rossini wrote for Teatro San Carlo in Naples between 1815 and 1822. At the time the opera was produced… Read more

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Fifty Shades of Grey, review: ‘Use a condom!’ my sister shouted

Cinema

And so, in the end, I went with my sister, Toni, to see Fifty Shades of Grey and we saw it at noon on Valentine’s Day at the Odeon in Muswell Hill. In the audience on that particular day at… Read more

How to Hold Your Breath: Maxine Peake and Christine Bottomley Photo: Manuel Harlan

How to Hold Your Breath, Royal Court, review: yet more state-funded misanthropy

Theatre

‘We hate the system and we want the system to pay us to say we hate the system.’ The oratorio of subsidised theatre rises, in triumphant blast, at the Royal Court whose current empress Vicky Featherstone has chosen to direct… Read more

Cinema For Peace Gala 2012 - Inside Ceremony

Why Putin is even less of a human than Stalin was

Radio

LBC likes to tell us it’s ‘Leading Britain’s Conversation’, though in the case of weekday pre-lunch presenter James O’Brien you’ll have to sit through a series of bombastic monologues from the host before any punters get a word in edgeways.… Read more

Priyanga Burford as Deepa Kaur in UKIP: The First 100 Days

UKIP: The First 100 Days, Channel 4, review: a sad, predictable, desperate hatchet job

Television

Just three months into Ukip’s shock victory as the party of government and already Nigel Farage’s mob are starting to show their true colours: morris dancing has been made compulsory for every able-bodied male between the age of 30 and… Read more

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The Heckler: how funny really was Spitting Image?

The Heckler

Hold the front page! Spitting Image is back! Well, sort of. A new six-part series, from (some of) the team behind Fluck and Law’s puppetry satire show, will be broadcast on ITV this spring. Called Newzoids, it promises to provide… Read more

Van Gogh's 'The Diggers' (1889). Credit: Collectie Stedelijk

Where Van Gogh learned to paint

Arts feature

In December 1878 Vincent Van Gogh arrived in the Borinage, a bleak coal- mining district near Mons. He was 25 years old. He’d failed to become an art dealer. He’d failed to become a schoolteacher. Drawing was just a hobby… Read more

Sound and vision: spectators watch Polly Harvey in a glass box recording her new album

The future of the album lies in the gallery

Exhibitions

The album is not what it was. It still exists, in record collections, as part of the torrential streaming of everything, and in the sentimental memories of those who lament the loss of what once seemed a permanent fixture and… Read more

Crystal Pite's 'A Picture of You Falling' at Sadler's Wells. Photo: Michael Slobodian

The Associates at Sadler's Wells reviewed: another acutely inventive work from Crystal Pite

Dance

The prodigious streetdancer Tommy Franzén pops up everywhere from family-friendly hip-hop shows by ZooNation, Boy Blue and Bounce to serious contemporary ballet by Russell Maliphant and Kim Brandstrup, but he’s a bit of a Macavity. He ought to be recognised… Read more

Simon Rattle with the Berlin Phil at the Barbican. Photo: Mark Allan / Barbican

Classical music's greatest political butt-kissers: Dudamel, Gergiev and Rattle

Music

On 8 March 2013, Gustavo Dudamel stood by the coffin of the Marxist autocrat Hugo Chavez and conducted the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra in the Venezuelan national anthem. He assumed, like everyone else, that the coffin contained a fresh corpse:… Read more

Starry night: Iain Patterson as Sachs and Andrew Shore as Beckmesser in a triumphant ‘Mastersingers of Nuremberg’

Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO, review: ‘a triumph’

Opera

ENO’s new production of Wagner’s The Mastersingers of Nuremberg is a triumph about which only the most niggling of reservations can be set. Every aspect — orchestral, vocal, production — works in harmony to effect one of the richest, most… Read more

The Separation Photo: Ed Clark

A tatty new theatre offers up a comic gem that’s sure to be snapped up by the BBC

Theatre

New venue. New enticement. In the undercroft of a vast but disregarded Bloomsbury church nestles the Museum of Comedy. The below-stairs space wears the heavy oaken lineaments of Victorian piety but the flagstones have been smothered with prim suburban carpeting,… Read more

A humdinger of a plus: Alfred Molina and John Lithgow in ‘Love Is Strange’

Love Is Strange review: subtle and nuanced in ways which, I’m assuming, Fifty Shades is not

Cinema

You will be wondering why I haven’t seen Fifty Shades of Grey as this is very much Fifty Shades of Grey week and although I’m as curious and excited as anybody — how has Sam Taylor-Johnson filmed a book which,… Read more

Andrew Heptinstall and blind photographer Rosita McKenzie. Photo: Andrew Heptinstall

The amazing story of the blind photographer

Radio

Perhaps the news that Radio 5 live will be the only BBC station (under the new broadcasting rights agreements) to broadcast ‘live’ golf will ensure that its audience stays above the six million listeners now dreamt of by its controller… Read more

Law in action: Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman

Better Call Saul review: the box set equivalent of a (very) well-made play

Television

I lost count long ago of the number of dinner parties and pub conversations where I’ve had to utter the humiliating words, ‘Actually I haven’t seen Breaking Bad.’ The social isolation became even more shaming when my 81-year-old mother rang… Read more