Arts feature

Exhibition suspicion

Martin Gayford questions the point of art shows. Should they educate or give pleasure — or both? Towards the end of June, 1814, Maria Bicknell, the wife-to-be of the painter John Constable, went to an exhibition at the British Institute on Pall Mall. It was the second retrospective exhibition ever held in London. The first,

More from Arts

Big space, small space

Liliane Lijn: Stardust Riflemaker, 79 Beak Street, London W1, until 5 July Liliane Lijn has always made ‘far-out’ sculpture, innovative, adventurous and aesthetically exhilarating. Her imagination fires on three cylinders: light, movement and the use of new and untried materials — untried, that’s to say, in art, though already in use for industrial or scientific

Defying definition

In 1888, visitors to Earls Court were treated to the novel sight of an exhibition of avant-garde art from Italy. The show was mounted by the Milanese Vittore Grubicy de Dragon, the art-dealer son of an impoverished Hungarian baron. A follower of the Paris art scene and a convert to the optical theories of Ogden

Sister act

Caramel PG, Key cities Caramel is a lovely and engaging film and just what we all need right now. You may well ask: how do I know what you need? Have I canvassed your friends? Your family? Of course. And what they all say is: yes, this is just the sort of film you need

The old problem

King Lear Globe That Face Duke of York’s Beau Jest Hackney Empire Every time I see Lear I discover something old. It must be at least two centuries since somebody first noticed that one of the many factors that make this titanic play unplayable is that the great speeches are delivered by a bearded geriatric

Lyrical lack

Royal Ballet Triple Bill Royal Opera House There was a time when dancers were very often given the means to gain a deep understanding of what they were supposed to be interpreting on stage — the well-known story of Ninette de Valois taking her artists to see William Hogarth’s paintings while creating The Rake’s Progress

Spiritual heaven

The English choral tradition comes in various shapes and sizes. The largest manifestation of it is on display at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, with its 18 men and ranks of boys. The smallest, a kind of pocket-battleship affair, is the choir of the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace, with its six men and

Moving and magical

Roberto Alagna Barbican Simon Boccanegra Royal Opera House The Merry Widow Coliseum Roberto Alagna gave a recital of Verdi arias in the Barbican last week, his first appearance in the UK since his wounding experience at the hands of the hooligans who call themselves connoisseurs at La Scala Milan. It was a most enjoyable occasion,

BBC as saviour

While the TV chiefs squirm with embarrassment, exposed for misleading the public in the phone-voting scandals, radio has had a brilliant week. Not just an announcement that 34.22 million listeners have been listening each week to BBC radio (let alone all the commercial radio stations, digital and online) but also endorsements from two people not

Faking it | 17 May 2008

As budgets fall and standards slip, it’s inevitable that TV is going to get worse and worse and that the job of the TV critic in trying to shame the bosses into arresting this decline will become more important than ever. But this doesn’t make me feel happy. It just — like so many things

‘Seeing by doing’

William Feaver explains how his book ‘Pitmen Painters’ inspired a new play at the National ‘It means knaaing what to de.’ This is Jimmy Floyd speaking, his Ashington accent spelt out, his words — more dialect than dialectic — written by Lee ‘Billy Elliot’ Hall. In Hall’s The Pitmen Painters, newly transferred from Live Theatre,

Presentation over content

Blood on Paper: The Art of the Book V&A, until 29 June The partnership between the written word and the visual image has a long and distinguished history. Leaving aside the pictographic tradition and the fertile area of calligraphy, the first artists’ books must date from the modern period when artists began to grow ever

City revival

‘What are you going to be when you grow up?’ an inquisitive adult asked during the break for tea at a tennis party given by my parents in the Vale of Clwyd, North Wales, c.1948. ‘A cotton broker,’ I replied, wishing to follow in the ancestral footsteps. Then my father’s head shook from side to