Why art biennales are (mostly) rubbish

Should you visit Malta this spring, you may notice something decidedly weird is afoot. Across the public squares of its capital, Valletta, performance artists are blocking busy thoroughfares and causing havoc on packed café terraces. The Hospitaller and British military forts that dominate the capital’s famous harbour, meanwhile, are full of dysfunctional installation work, while the curio-filled vitrines of local museums are forced to compete with video art. Even the Grandmaster’s Palace – for centuries the country’s seat of power – has accommodated several dozen mini-exhibitions on the theme of ‘the Matri-archive of the Mediterranean’. As more than one artist showing work in these places told me, the venues were

Must we now despise colonial architecture too?

Here’s a thing. A disturbing book about disturbing cities. And it’s full of loaded questions. Like Hezbollah, the publisher uses the silhouette of an automatic weapon as its logo. This is a trigger warning. Jonathan Swift wrote: All poets and philosphers who find  Some favourite system to their minds  In every way to make it fit  Will force all Nature to submit. So I give you Owen Hatherley, an architectural critic of the left, adept in the predictable tropes of Guardian-sprache, who exists in a world, as he often tells us, defined by concepts of colonial domination, exploitation and ocean-going misery. As Lionel Trilling observed, leftish people are always glum

Malta: why the Queen’s cherished island is worth a visit

The Queen has never been one for a beach holiday, but as a young woman she loved spending time on the sun-dappled island of Malta. The then-Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip stayed on the island regularly just after the Second World War, the newly weds residing at the Villa Guardamangia from 1949 to 1951. They enjoyed being near the sea, visiting the racetrack and being out of the public eye. The Queen is even said to have visited a hairdresser for the first time there. Viewers of The Crown will be familiar with this period, which the Queen and Prince Philip reportedly described as one of the happiest times in

Even the Queen wasn’t spared Prince Philip’s bad temper

Though the indefatigable Gyles Brandreth met and interviewed Prince Philip over a 40-year period, His Royal Highness managed to give very little away. ‘He would just look at me balefully and say nothing,’ Brandreth writes. Wondering what Prince Philip’s philosophy of life might be, ‘I didn’t get very far’. When asked about his childhood,‘he brushed away the subject’. Prince Philip’s attitude to parenthood was a flat: ‘We did our best.’ His opinion of the Queen Mother: ‘He would not be drawn.’ His summing up of the consort’s existence: ‘I tried to find useful things to do. I did my best’ — e.g. by introducing a footman training programme or building

You’ll keep saying ‘I’m sorry, did I hear that correctly?’: Fiasco reviewed

Kevin Katke was quite a man. He had no military training, no political background and no espionage experience. Nonetheless, his hatred of communists and can-do attitude made him the pre-eminent idiot savant of private American intelligence throughout the Reagan administration. It was a peripatetic career that culminated with him spearheading a bungled plot to oust a leftist regime in Grenada while holding down a full-time job at Macy’s. Call it the American dream. I learnt this — along with dozens of other things to make you say, ‘I’m sorry, did I hear that correctly?’ — listening to Fiasco (Luminary), a political-history podcast whose second season retells the bizarre and shambolic