Category Archives: exhibition

Fashioned From Nature (V & A, Kensington)

If you have ever wondered about the relationship between raw materials, animal products and fashion, and how this evolved into a sustainable and ethical mindset, this current exhibition at the V&A is for you.

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Set over two floors, production from material such as silkworms, raw cotton, wool and fleece, glass, rubber, fruit, and animal fur, feathers, and leather are explored. You can explore areas such as ‘murderous millinery’, mother of pearl, spun glass, and lace, as well as looking at some more ethical alternatives from the mid-20th century.

The V&A describe this exhibition as “the first to explore the complex relationship between fashion and nature from 1600 to the present day”.  Have you ever stopped to think about how your clothes have been made, coloured, or decorated, or are you content to just purchase mass-produced items without reflecting on their origins?

Whether you want to look at how raw silk or cotton evolved into stylish and functional pieces, or consider the utilisation of beetle cases and wings or mother of pearl for embellishment, you will see items on display which make you stop and think.  You will also see clothing made from a combination of materials, including real fur and feathers, discarded yarn, and even a German parachute.

You will be able to consider the workmanship that goes into spun glass or lace items, see the influence of fashion from around the world, and (briefly) reflect on the influence of outside movements such as punk or the industrial revolution.

Tickets for this exhibition are £12 and there is no need to book in advance.  There is also a fascinating book which accompanies the show, with additional text and photographs, which costs £18, and several items in the shop which compliment the items on show.

Fashioned from Nature runs until the 27th January 2019.

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ABBA: Super Troupers (exhibition review)

A few weeks ago, we visited the new installation at the Southbank Centre, which is a ten-room look at the life and work of the Swedish pop group ABBA, promoted as “an immersive, one-of-a-kind exhibition”.

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Tours must be pre-booked and are led by a guide – although I felt this simply lengthened the time required to experience this exhibition in total.  Each room is named after an ABBA song, beginning with Super Trouper, which is a cheesy collection of excerpts from their hits, in a small dark space, with a Super Trouper spotlight pride of place.

Other rooms showcase a typical living room of the 1970s, with accompanying television broadcast about the Common Market and a couple of display cases with real ABBA memorabilia – tip, make sure you walk around all the rooms and look at the exhibits as the time allowed to do this is limited, a fake forest representing an outdoor festival, a recording studio which demonstrated the complicated mix of music which made us a particular track – plus a chance to sing along to Dancing Queen, a club bathroom complete with graffiti, a flat with items packed up ready for a new life, and a luxury jet cabin.

01-Installation-vie_-ABBA-Super-Troupers-on-display-at-Southbank-Centre-CREDIT-Victor-FrankowskiPhoto by Victor Frankowski.

There are costumes, video footage, records, some personal items, and a final look at the legacy of the group (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and French and Saunders), but if you compare this with the recent exhibitions on Elvis Presley at the O2, and the Rolling Stones at the Saatchi Gallery, this is something of a disappointment, and would perhaps benefit from a more thoughtful curation of the available space, focusing on what is really rare and interesting so they are not missed.

However, if you are a fan of the group – and of course they have recently announced a reform of sorts with a new song and a holographic tour – this has now been extended until 29th July 2018.  Cheaper entry prices are available mid-week than at weekends.

 

 


Theatre exhibitions in London

The British Library is the venue for a rather unusual but interesting exhibition displaying material from original texts in Shakespeare’s hand, costumes (note – Vivien Leigh’s beautiful Lady Macbeth costume from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production does not, sadly, make it into the illustrations in the accompanying book), photographs (again excluded from the book are stills from the Stratford 1959 production of Othello with Paul Robeson and Mary Ure, as seen at https://www.rsc.org.uk/othello/past-productions/related-websites), and letters (Olivier extremely snidey about Robeson’s Othello and dismissing a chance to offer an invitation to the American actor, stating he would ‘like to have a bash’ at the role himself).

The ‘ten acts’ are each related to either a play or an aspect of cultural change – so we get sections devoted to Hamlet, The Tempest, King Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, as well as sections around performance, the introduction of female and black performers, and the future of Shakespearean scholarship.  Along the way you will see a mix of portraits, original printed texts, ephemera, and audio-visual presentations: I especially enjoyed the chance to compare and contrast a selection of ‘To be or not to be’ declarations from the likes of Herbert Beerbohm-Tree, Peter O’Toole, John Gielgud and Daniel Day-Lewis, and video discussions from the likes of Samuel West, Simon Russell Beale, Harriet Walter and Hugh Quarshie.

The Lady Macbeth costume you can see at close quarters is this one:

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What struck me about it is the delicacy and the slightness of the form which would have worn it, quite a contrast with the description of Leigh’s Lady M as an earthy and sensual creation.  Later in the exhibition another costume of Leigh’s can be viewed: the headdress from her appearance as Titania in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, and it is very beautiful.

Other items of interest include Ted Hughes’ attempt to adapt King Lear for Peter Brook’s film, and a handwritten MS from Angela Carter of ‘Wise Children’, about the twin sisters who grow up obsessed by the Bard.  There is a montage of photos and clips from film versions of Shakespeare’s works including Asta Nielsen’s ‘Hamlet’, Fairbanks and Pickford’s wedding scene in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, Tony and Maria’s meeting across a crowded dance floor in ‘West Side Story’ (based on ‘Romeo and Juliet’) and a 2006 Chinese version of ‘Hamlet’ I wasn’t aware of called ‘The Banquet’.

The fake and abridged Shakespeares are here too: Nahum Tate’s ‘King Lear’, and a whole section (which seems disproportionate) on ‘Vortigern’.  At times the audio pieces bleed into and overpower each other: the Globe’s ‘Twelfth Night’ with Mark Rylance drowns out the montage, and the (albeit hilarious) Peter Sellers parody of Olivier reciting ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ can be heard well after it has been seen.  Do stop and watch some of the short pieces demonstrating Shakespeare around the world, and pause to hear the glorious Paul Robeson in the Stratford ‘Othello’.  In portrait you can see Ira Aldridge, Sarah Siddons, and John Philip Kemble.

The exhibition plays with gender, too, not only noting the first women to play the formerly male parts of Desdemona and Cleopatra, but also including a discussion by Maxine Peake of her ‘trans Hamlet’ and a piece implying Derek Jarman’s ‘Tempest’ dealt with Prospero’s hidden homosexuality (something which completely passed me by, to be honest).  There is a whole gallery on Peter Brook’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (see https://www.rsc.org.uk/a-midsummer-nights-dream/past-productions/peter-brook-1970-production), radical, influencial, and androgynous.

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Over at the Victoria and Albert Museum, another exhibition which touches on Shakespeare (and a wider celebration of theatre), is the ‘Curtain Up’ installation which celebrates forty years of theatre in London and New York.

Covered in a series of compact galleries are musicals, ballet, plays, and opera.  The exhibits are busily displayed and curiously curated, but this is definitely worth a look, with high points for me including a series of set models from ‘An Inspector Calls’ to ‘Arcadia’, a handful of costumes including Nureyev’s Romeo doublet from the Kenneth McMillan ballet, models from ‘War Horse’ and examples of stage lighting including ‘The Curious Dog in the Nighttime’.

Remember to look up to see the programmes and posters displayed overhead.

 

Curtain Up is on until Wednesday 16th August – for information see https://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/curtain-up-celebrating-40-years-of-theatre-in-london-and-new-york.

Shakespeare in Ten Acts is on until Tuesday 6th September – for information and to book see http://www.bl.uk/events/shakespeare-in-ten-acts.

 

 


Rolling Stones: Exhibitionism (Saatchi Gallery)

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The whole of the Sloane Square Saatchi Gallery has been given over to this major exhibition of one of the UK’s most enduring bands, The Rolling Stones.  Even the area outside the gallery on the King’s Road is home to a group of ceramic tongue logos for the six month duration of this hot ticket.

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Stones’ fans will know the basics about how the band was formed (although here the focus is on Mick and Keith’s childhood friendship, rather than Brian Jones and his advert for band members), and how they grew from Edith Grove flatmates to billionaire corporate businessmen over a period of fifty years.

Even casual observers will know the iconic logo, the album covers, and the songs which, for their first twenty years at least, were part of the regular musical tapestry we all grew up with.  It’s no surprise that the final showpiece in this exhibition is a performance of ‘Satisfaction’ from Hyde Park in 2013, rendered into ‘Real 3-D’.  We pass from a mock-up of the backstage area through to a darkened room where, with the help of strobe lights, we feel kind of part of the show itself, with a strutting Jagger, a wrinkled Keef, and a crowd bordering on hysteria.

By this time we’ve watched a video wall retrospective of concerts, news items, interviews, press footage, and more; seen guitars and stage costumes up close; experienced recreations of that first filthy flat with its death-trap cooker, mouldy wallpaper, and half-eaten tinned goods; played producer with a mix-desk mock-up; seen a set of artworks which became iconic album covers, and models of sets such as the Lotus Flower and the Bridges of Babylon (a laconic quote on the wall states this cost a cool £1million); and squinted at documents such as Keith Richards’ surprisingly articulate diary, that first contract signed by Brian Jones as group founder, and handwritten lyrics by Jagger.

The sense one gets is of a slick, corporate machine with no personal insight whatever.  This is a money-making enterprise which long ago moved away from ‘six boys playing the blues’.  The exhibition has more of Mick and Keef than anyone else, although Brian is there if you look for him (there are clothes of his, and he is in photos, and notably looking spaced out and bored in the clips from Godard’s ‘Sympathy for the Devil’).  Bill and Charlie are there, but they were the quiet ones, and it shows, although interestingly early fan club guff on the band claims Wyman was born in 1941, when it fact it was 1936.

Collaborators get their own small gallery, too, although the story around Ian Stewart’s demotion from full band member to road manager and session pianist is not fully explored (he was inducted with the rest of them to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame).  Was he really deemed too square, or too old (he was younger than Bill)?  I would have liked to have seen more about how Brian Jones’ vision of the band gave way to Mick Jagger’s, and the story around how the rebellious young men got to the point that the souvenir book which accompanies ‘Exhibitionism’ has an insert which is a letter from the corporate sponsor, DHL.

There’s also little on the women who were alongside the Stones.  Marianne Faithfull and Mick’s wedding to Bianca is on the video wall, and Anita Pallenberg is namechecked in the costume section alongside two of L’Wren Scott’s creations, but the women you might go away remembering the most are the groupie who cavorts naked in the clips shown from the film ‘Cocksucker Blues’, and the lady whose full frontal inspired an album sleeve.

Video and film get relatively short shrift: promos get a confused compilation and the concert films and documentaries get a hagiography from uber-fan Martin Scorsese, who caught them himself in his own ‘Shine A Light’ (2008).  The Stones are two things, when it comes down to it, a slicky protected image (no photos allowed throughout the exhibition) and a vibrant live presence, although this has both faded and tipped into caricature over the years.

 


Hidden London: Charing Cross – access all areas

There’s something oddly interesting about disused, abandoned, or dormant spaces on the London Underground.  There are several stations which are completely closed and which survive in various states of repair, but Charing Cross is of course a working station still, home to the Northern and Bakerloo lines, and, until 1999, to the aborted final section of the original Jubilee line (formerly Fleet).

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Where the line now goes from Green Park on towards Waterloo it once terminated here, and the station itself came about from a combination of the old Trafalgar Square (Bakerloo) and Strand (Northern) stations.  (Strand, you may recall, was the original name of the station which became Aldwych, which was itself closed in 1994).

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This tour takes in the former Jubilee platforms (with the fake adverts set up for filming, and the lighting and decorating experiments), including the escalator where Daniel Craig slid down for Skyfall.  We also visit the ventilation tower (which you can see from the outside, on Craven Street), and the construction tunnel where the spoil from the creation of the Jubilee extension was taken away by narrow gauge rail under Trafalgar Square.

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The guides are enthusiastic and knowledgeable, making even the wearing of hard hats or the passing through louvre doors interesting.  The world behind closed doors, and above working platforms, is there to be explored.  Highly recommended.

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Review of 2015

This is the point where, now 2016 has started with the traditional fireworks and hangovers, we have a look back to the good (and bad) of 2015.

Theatre

In January I saw two productions, the frankly disappointing ‘Potted Sherlock’, and the excellent ‘Taken at Midnight’, in which Penelope Wilton excelled as a woman whose son was in the hands of the Nazis.

February brought a new Tom Stoppard at the National, ‘The Hard Problem’, which tried to mix academia with personal relationships, but didn’t really do either justice.

In March I enjoyed the revival of ‘Harvey’, starring James Dreyfuss, which stopped off at Richmond before a run in the West End, and I travelled to Hampstead for my first visit to the theatre there to see Zoe Wanamaker in the revival of ‘Stevie’ (a piece I know well from the Glenda Jackson film).

April brought three top-class musicals associated with Stephen Sondheim: first, the show on which he wrote lyrics, ‘Gypsy’, at the Savoy, which some of you will have seen and enjoyed when it was on television over the Christmas break, and second, the transfer of ‘Sweeney Todd: Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ at the ENO, with Bryn Terfel, Emma Thompson, and the welcome return to these shores of Philip Quast.  Finally, the concert version of ‘Follies’, at the Royal Albert Hall, which was ridiculously overpriced but certainly star-studded.

In May, a silly but perfectly-pitched tribute to the Bonzo Dog frontman, Vivian Stanshall, who died twenty years ago, was on for one night only at the Bloomsbury.  ‘Radio Stanshall’ teamed old hands with a fun reboot of the Sir Henry at Rawlinson End tales.   Meanwhile, over at the Globe Theatre Jonathan Pryce impressed as Shylock in ‘The Merchant of Venice’, and on transfer from Stratford-upon-Avon, Antony Sher and Harriet Walter reteamed for the first time since the late 90s Macbeth for ‘Death of a Salesman’, which was a definite highlight of the year.

June at the Barbican heralded the Beckett International Festival, of which I chose to see the starry ‘Waiting for Godot’ with Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh, and Philip Quast (again!).  I love the play, and this production seemed to polarise audiences, but I found it very good indeed.

In July, there was comedy at the National in ‘The Beaux’ Strategem’, and a major misfire at the Young Vic with a head-scratching version of ‘The Trial’, in which a conveyer belt set and Rory Kinnear were excellent but the translation was not.  Closer to home, Julian Clary headlined the Ealing Comedy Festival, while in town, David Suchet donned a dress for a hilarious take on Lady Bracknell in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’.

August brought us one of the year’s total turkeys, at the Charing Cross Theatre, where the dreadful ‘Dusty’ had cast changes, delayed press nights and worse.  Back at the National, ‘Three Days in the Country’ was a new and truncated version of the Turgenev play, which had a bit of overacting from John Simm but a finely judged comic bit from Mark Gatiss.

In September, the delightful Rattigan play ‘Flare Path’ stopped by at Richmond, while ‘Mr Foote’s Other Leg’ did well at Hampstead before a West End transfer – I especially liked Dervla Kirwan’s delicate actress-whore.    And the month ended with the new version of the Bristol production of ‘Jane Eyre’, a high-energy adaptation which was a total joy to watch.

October saw a trip to the Bridewell Theatre for an excellent version of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ by the amateur Geoids Musical Theatre, an ensemble I would happily watch again.

In November the final piece of the RSCs King and Country puzzle fell into play with the showing of ‘Henry V’, which I liked a lot, and which, coming so soon after the Paris attacks, felt oddly relevant and very moving.

Meanwhile, December brought the undoubted un-highlight of the year, with the National’s jaw-droppingly terrible ‘wonder.land’.   I would recommend a trip to the National’s Shed instead to see the fun ‘I Want My Hat Back’, and New Year’s Eve brought the year to a sentimental close with ‘Goodnight Mr Tom’.

Concerts and live cinema relays

The Southbank Centre hosted a special ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ in February which I really enjoyed: with the Light Programme being represented with everything from Max Miller and Roy Hudd to Flanders & Swann and Gilbert & Sullivan.  The concert a week later in the same series, looking at post-1959 music, was fun, but not quite in the same league.

On Valentine’s Day the Berlin Philharmonic with their conductor Sir Simon Rattle was in residence at the Royal Festival Hall, with a programme showcasing their splendid rendition of Mahler No 2.   And on the big screen there was a live relay from the Royal Opera House of ‘The Flying Dutchman’, with Bryn Terfel, which was another of the year’s highlights: he really had made this role his own.

In April Daniel Barenboim was at the Royal Festival Hall with the Staatkapelle Berlin, playing Elgar, and it was an honour to be there, especially to see him awarded the Elgar Medal which he dedicated to his late wife, Jacqueline du Pre.   This month also saw a live musical accompaniment to a little-seen Lillian Gish film, ‘Annie Laurie’, at the Barbican.

In October, the London Literature Festival gave us both Terry Gilliam (with a video retrospective of some of his films), and Tom Jones (who sang, and by heck, is he still good).  The end of the month had a return visit to the Royal Festival Hall from Randy Newman, who with just a piano, was rather marvellous.

December was the month of NT Live screenings, with the Broadway production of ‘Of Mice and Men’ and the Barbican ‘Hamlet’ (which I didn’t add here for some reason, but which can be seen in my review over on Letterboxd).  We ended the year in concert mode with the professional gloss of Andre Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra at Wembley Arena.

Film

Letterboxd (where I post as loureviews) tells me I watched 451 films – including shorts and miniseries, in 2015.  Eight of those merited a full, five-star score, and all were rewatches: Mary Poppins, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Lifeboat, I Know Where I’m Going, Guys and Dolls, Witchfinder General, Rebecca, and The Snowman.

There were, however, some four and a half star films I had seen for the first time, so these are my picks of the year: Night Will Fall (2014), Laughter in the Dark (1969), Her (2013), Maxine Peake in Hamlet (2015), Mr Axelford’s Angel (1974), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), Contempt/Le Mepris (1963), Shylock’s Ghost (2015), Night and Day (2015), and Tony Benn: Will and Testament (2014).

The turkeys of the year, the true stinkers, number ten: Carry on England (1976), Happy Hooligan (1903), Ride Along (2014), Sherlock Holmes (2011 – and it isn’t the Asylum one), The Other Woman (2014), Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015), The Nut Job (2014), Annie (2014), Bed and Breakfast (1938), and The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978).

Tributes

I marked a trio of anniversaries this year.  Twenty years since the death of Vivian Stanshall, thirty-five years since the death of AC/DC frontman Bon Scott, and twenty-six years since the death of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman.  You can find links to all these in the ‘Index to tribute profiles’ at the top of the page.

Exhibitions

In January, the London Transport Museum was the venue for ‘Goodbye, Piccadilly’, which I loved.  Later in the year, the Hayward Gallery hosted the thoughtful ‘History is Now’, which was odd but engaging.

 


History Is Now – exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre

Any exhibition which aims to present a history of British culture from 1945 to the present day has to be wide-ranging and risk-taking, and the Hayward Gallery’s new exhibition manages to be both.

Seven curators have presented six exhibitions within this space and generic umbrella of ‘History is Now’, and although there are no obvious links between the different shows, together they present an immersive snapshot of the country as it was, and where it is going.

Richard Wentworth’s section, on the top floor of the gallery, goes back the furthest, presenting photographs, sketches and texts around the immediate aftermath of the war, along with books about the period arranged above head height, covers facing downwards, on glass shelves.  His vision also includes a surface to air missile which sits outside in the Southbank Centre’s space, aimed towards the financial heart of modern London.

Hannah Starkey’s set of images includes collages of advertising from the 1970s, hugely sexist and geared towards a culture which has all but disappeared, where shoes, household appliances, and politics could be presented in ways that – if you remove the sexual politics and objectivity from the equation – remain startling and innovative.  Her section also includes real life photographs of destitution and degradation which are at odds with the glossy images depicted in the advertising.

John Akromfrah presents seventeen films which look at Britain’s artistic past and future – in themselves they represent hours of footage on which we only quickly glanced on our visit – but there is material from Hepworth, Bacon, and others, which could repay repeat visits.

The Wilson twins Jane and Louise focus much of their attention on Northern Ireland and the Troubles, in a thought-provoking set of images, paintings and texts which focus on both sides of the issue.  The most powerful piece in their section though might be the cage of gloves, each representing a person unemployed with hands idle at the height of the employment crisis of the 1980s.

Roger Hiorns presents a whole room devoted to BSE and the hysteria around mad cow disease – hard to remember now how this was headline news for so long, but newspaper covers, articles, reports, photographs and other artifacts remind us of the fact – a peripheral side effect of this is seeing what else was news at the time, which caused some nostalgia when viewing this particular exhibit.

Finally, and the first section you will see on entering the Hayward, Simon Fujiwara shows us David Beckham sleeping, Meryl Streep’s costume for ‘The Iron Lady’, some plastic cutlery, a couple of bin bags, and Damien Hirst’s dot painting (his cattle heads in formaldehyde are in Hiorns’ section).  This is the most ephemeral and the least engaging part of the exhibition, but the one which is the most flash – even including a section of balcony from a Canary Wharf apartment.

A mixed exhibition, and one which does require some attention to be paid to its messages and juxtapositions – we took nearly two hours to circulate on its preview night and could have stayed longer, had we engaged with every film on show.  I particularly liked the photographs from Erin Pizzey’s Chiswick Women’s Refuge, the items from Greenham Common peace camp, and the sense of history once you move away from the throwaway nature of Fujiwara’s vision into something with just that bit more depth.


Goodbye Piccadilly, exhibition at London Transport Museum

Running until the 8th March 2015, this is the latest exhibition to use posters and artefacts from the collections of the London Transport Museum.

Goodbye Piccadilly is about the First World War, and more specifically, about the fleet of London buses which were sent into Europe and beyond, along with their drivers, to assist with the war effort.

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The posters on show present quite a naive and chilling message to those back in Blighty at the start of the war, as the examples above indicate – ‘the childrens recruiting depots’ being an example which made me particularly shudder.

Other notable artefacts include the plate which adorned ‘Ole Bill’, one of those commandeered buses, the war memorial to the fallen, a bus conductress’ uniform, and more.

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There are two books to accompany this exhibition, and both are well worth getting (and currently available in the Museum shop at £20 for the pair).

There is also a wall where you can add your own message to the soldiers and civilians of the Great War, and one such item, drawn by a child, simply said ‘Thank you’.  With all the commemoration of the 1914-18 conflict we sometimes forget the scale of sacrifice, and how everyone joined up, expecting the conflict to be ‘over by Christmas’.


Elvis at the O2 / Sherlock Holmes – The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die

Two major exhibitions in London, and I saw them on consecutive days over the Christmas period, so how do they compare?

The O2 in North Greenwich is the venue for ‘Elvis at the O2: Direct from Graceland’ which showcases clothes and artefacts from the life and career of the American singer Elvis Presley (1935-1977).  This is the first time a major exhibition relating to Elvis has taken place in Europe and it runs to August 2015.

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Over at the Museum of London in the City is the exhibition ‘Sherlock Holmes: the Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die’ which runs to the 12th April 2015.  It presents pictures and items relating to the Holmes universe and the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as a selection of film and television portrayals.

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Cost:

Elvis – £20 per adult.  We took 90 minutes to visit the exhibition, and then watched the 26 minute film of Elvis performances which closed the experience.

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Sherlock – £12 per adult.  We took 45 minutes to visit the exhibition.

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Entrance:

Elvis – the exhibition is not signposted at all outside the O2 or inside, so you just wander through the centre until you find the picture of Elvis at the bottom of an escalator.  You queue and get your ticket scanned, and 20 people at a time are allowed up the escalator.  You go up to find the shop (nice marketing) where you pick up your pre-booked souvenir guides – but not the CD, which isn’t ready yet – then through the doors and into the first exhibit, a short slideshow on Elvis at various times in his life.

Sherlock – very well promoted in the Museum near the entrance, with a frieze outside of the entire Dancing Men story.  You walk straight down to the exhibition (two flights of stairs), where your ticket is scanned and you pass through a bookcase of old tomes into the first section of video screens showing various film and television depictions of Holmes.

Photography:

Elvis – very much encouraged, but not with flash, and no video recording permitted.

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Sherlock – ticket says no, but attendant says yes, except for items flagged with the ‘no photography’ label (including the Hammer Hound poster, some older engravings, and an on-loan Monet).

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Text:

Elvis – minimal.  If you were not a fan with pre-knowledge of Presley’s life, you might struggle.  Few objects are put into detailed context, although there are some nuggets throughout the exhibition.

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Sherlock – very good in depicting the universe of a fictional character and a London which has now vanished.

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Audio/video:

Elvis – not that many recordings in evidence, perhaps because of copyright – for example, the Graceland room has ‘Welcome to My World’ on a loop.  However video content is superb, especially from the ’68 Special.  I would have welcomed some private video/audio, but this exhibition doesn’t have much ‘off-stage’ other than his wedding cufflinks, Lisa Marie’s fur coat and baby clothes, and some artefacts from Tupelo.

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Sherlock – many clips from film and television (although some notable omissions), as well as radio recordings, and an interview with Conan Doyle.

Arrangement of exhibition:

Elvis – starts with Tupelo and then Memphis, and then into a room showcasing the main Vegas/Hawaii jumpsuits and the Cadillac, with rooms off including Graceland (with photographs of the main rooms), Hollywood (film posters, scripts, records, costumes), and the ’68 Special (the Guitar Man costume is here, but not yet the black leather outfit).  You’ll see Elvis’ gold telephone, Taking Care of Business ring, wedding champagne, Harley Davidson bike, riding saddle, the Maltese Cross necklace Linda Thompson gave him, his letter to President Nixon, and the American Eagle outfit from Aloha from Hawaii.  Look up to see LP sleeves hanging from the ceiling.  At the start you see the birth certificate, family Bible, school reports, and Army uniform.

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Sherlock – starts with the audio/video and film posters, then on to the London Holmes knew (maps, pictures of hansom cabs, locations etc.), and a room full of so many clothes and artefacts you would swear this man was real – a nice touch is passing through the door of 221B to get to this bit.  There is the violin, the deerstalker, medical paraphernalia, and various items which relate to the various stories.  Nearer the start you find material relating to Conan Doyle (the ms. of A Study in Scarlet, his tobacco jar).

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Merchandise:

Elvis – high end items (replica jumpsuits at £2,900, photographic prints at £400, art prints in a book at £75), middle end items (shirts, bags), low end items (very cute teddy bears at £10, bobble head Elvises, fridge magnets).  When you arrive at the exhibition your photograph is taken at the ‘gates of Graceland’ and you can buy the photo in an £18 pack (tip – don’t bother with the key ring, etc. as you don’t get extra copies of the photo to put in it).

Sherlock – I already had the excellent book, but there are pricey teddies at £35 (one Holmes, one Watson), a few DVDs, and Conan Doyle book tie-ins with the BBC series.  Not many high end items, but a lot of reading material.

Would I recommend?

Elvis – if you are a fan, absolutely yes, but you might be a little lost and confused if you’re not.  Don’t miss the 26 minute show as it lets you see a selection of Presley performances at his best.

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Sherlock – if you are a fan or interested in period London, there is a lot to see here.

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Rembrandt: The Late Works (National Gallery)

From now until January 2015, an exhibition of drawings and paintings from the last years of the life of Rembrandt van Rijn (better known as Rembrandt alone) can be viewed in a series of connected rooms in the basement of the National Gallery’s Sainsbury Wing.

It’s essential to pick up one of the booklets (and probably an audio guide, too) as you go in, as there are no explanatory texts on the walls to accompany the works, which are linked under headings such as ‘Self-Scrutiny’ (a group of Rembrandt’s famed self-portraits), ‘Light’ (including 1661’s ‘Conspiracy of the Batavians’ which was rejected for Amsterdam’s Town Hall, existing now only as a fragment of painting which sits beside the original, full drawing), ‘Experimental Technique’ (including 1665-9’s famed ‘Self-Portrait With two Circles’ and 1666’s ‘Lucretia’ (the first of two paintings on the subject in this exhibition), ‘Emulation’ (with 1662-5’s ‘Juno’, taking the work of Titian as inspiration), ‘Observation of Everyday Life’ , ‘Artistic Conventions’ (including 1662’s ‘The Syndics’, with its playful depictions of officials, and the dual portraits of man and wife Jacob Trip and the formidable Margaretha de Geer), ‘Intimacy’ (with 1655’s ‘Titus at his Desk’, showing Rembrandt’s son at study, and the masterly ‘Jewish Bride’ from the same year where a couple who could be the Biblical Isaac and Rebecca share a moment of tenderness within the painter’s gaze), ‘Contemplation’ (with its studies of apostles Simon and Bartholomew),  ‘Inner Conflict’ (with the second ‘Lucretia’, from 1664, in anguish at the point of suicide by dagger, and 1654’s compelling ‘Bathsheba with King David’s Letter’, in which the lady emerges from her bath with the letter inviting her presence in the sovereign’s bed), and finally, ‘Reconciliation’ (with the 1655 etching of ‘Abraham’s Sacrifice’ and Rembrandt’s final painting, 1669’s ‘Simeon with the Infant Christ in the Temple’).

Alongside the showy paintings (which are sometimes lit in a way that you cannot see full details close up and need a lot of space to get the full effect from afar) are a number of drawings, etchings and drypoints which exist in various ‘states’ (in which Rembrandt would make copies of the drawing at certain point and then make further revisions – in the case of 1653’s ‘The Three Crosses’ we can see three versions of the same composition side by side for the first time (they belong respectively to the British Museum, Rijksmuseum, and the V&A).  The techniques of an artist at work are fascinating to see, whether his constant revision of the same subject, or his use of scratches or pallet knife work on his oils.

Like the exhibition of the works of Leonardo da Vinci which showed here three years ago, this is unmissable precisely because of the chance to see works together which are usually found elsewhere, and this is a beautifully curated exhibition.  I was also reminded of the Korda film of the 1930s on the life of Rembrandt which featured Charles Laughton in the lead, and that obviously took inspiration from the later self-portraits – although, of course, Rembrandt only lived to the age of 63, so never got to what we term ‘old age’.  Look in the face of his portraits though and you see an artist who is quite aware of his place in the world and of the realities of mortality.


Bond in Motion (London Film Museum)

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This well-presented exhibition of classic cars, planes and submarines from the movies which make up the James Bond franchise is now open for business in Covent Garden, and if you have any interest in the films or the vehicles, I recommend you pay a visit.

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Whether you are interested in the classic films of Connery, Moore, Lazenby, Dalton and Brosnan, or the recent reboot with Daniel Craig, you will find memorabilia from each era here, the vehicles and props themselves showcased with clips from the films showing them in action.  The classic Aston Martin is here, as is the crocodile submarine, the underwater sled, and the cello case which got Dalton’s Bond into Austria.

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For boys of all ages there is also a chance to play with the mini-cars of the Scalextric, as well as a snippet of models and other merchandise meant for Bond fans to take home.  You can also buy the catalogue which illustrates the vehicles included in the exhibition, which in itself is worth the £12 price tag.

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A quick London round-up …

At London’s Transport Museum, Covent Garden, you can see the exhibition of posters brought together under the umbrella title ‘Poster Art 150’.  It’s on until January 5th – more details at http://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, has acquired Vivien Leigh’s archive and will display a selection of items from it in their Theatre & Performance galleries.  More details here – http://www.vam.ac.uk/b/blog/network/va-acquires-vivien-leigh-archive.

In its last week at the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank is the World Press Photo Exhibition – http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/world-press-photo-2013-1000455.

The Royal Festival Hall’s Spirit Level gallery is also the venue for the Koestler Trust’s 2013 exhibition of art by prisoners, offenders on community sentences, secure psychiatric patients and immigration detainees.  As in previous years this is touching, surprising, and well worth a look.  It runs until the 1st December.  http://www.koestlertrust.org.uk/pages/uk2013/exhibuk2013.html

Staying on the South Bank, the National Theatre is celebrating its 50th birthday and has a small exhibition of images in the Lyttelton Gallery of Oliver’s first company amongst other celebrations – http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/discover-more/welcome-to-the-national-theatre/50th-anniversary/50-at-the-national.

At the BFI Southbank, we are halfway through the Gothic season of films (https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::permalink=gothic), and there is currently a Vivien Leigh retrospective which runs to the end of the year *https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::permalink=vivien-leigh), including a new restoration of ‘Gone With The Wind’.

From tiny musical boxes to the Mighty Wurlitzer, pay a visit to the Musical Museum in Brentford (http://10551.easywebsiteinabox.org/contents/14), while at the Watermans just up the road the annual showcase of digital art, enter13, is running until 5th January (http://www.watermans.org.uk/exhibitions/exhibitions/enter13.aspx).

At Pimlico, the Tate Britain has had a revamp and has an exhibition on until February of ‘Five Contemporary Artists’.  For more details, see http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/painting-now-five-contemporary-artists.

The Design Museum (at Butler’s Wharf) recreates Paul Smith’s chaotic office with its collection of miscellaneous objects until the 9th March – http://designmuseum.org/exhibitions/2013/paul-smith.

Finally, over at the Barbican in the City of London, the Pop Art Movement is being celebrated at the Gallery – http://www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery/event-detail.asp?ID=14797.

NaBloPoMo November 2013


Hollywood Costume: an exhibition at the V&A

For the first time in the UK, a huge collection of costumes across nearly a hundred years of cinema from Hollywood have been brought together to be displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, across three galleries, curated by Deborah Nadoolman Landis.

The big draw is right at the end: Judy Garland’s gingham dress and ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz (although, be quick if you want to see the real slippers, as they are only on loan for a short time before returning to the USA for Thanksgiving). Here also is Marilyn’s famous Seven Year Itch frock, looking as delicate and fragile as its owner.

At the start of the exhibition, a crowded room displays treasures from Scarlett O’Hara’s green gown (supposedly made from curtains, but far too grand), Marlene Dietrich’s Angel costume, and Joan Crawford’s Mildred Pierce frock, through to a tableau from Ocean’s 11 (the Clooney one) and some more contemporary pieces.

In room two we find another highlight – a Royal collection (Garbo’s Queen Christina’s ivory dress, Bette Davis/Cate Blanchett/Judi Dench Elizabeth I gowns, etc.), along with Indiana Jones, who gets a stand to himself, before the finale including pieces worn by characters ranging from Tracy Lord to Holly Golightly, Superman to Catwoman, Don Juan to The Blues Brothers.

The earliest piece here is the spider gown worn by Louise Glaum in the 1920 film ‘Sex’, the most beautiful the delicate gown worn by Carole Lombard in ‘My Man Godfrey’. The exhibition also gives a chance to see two Cleopatras side by side (costumes worn by Claudette Colbert and Elizabeth Taylor, thirty years apart), Ben Hur’s toga, and Hedy Lamarr’s flimsy gown and fur from Samson and Delilah. There is history here, and for followers of old or new cinema alike, there is much to enjoy.

It is also a celebration of designers from Adrian and Edith Head through to the most recent costumiers (Jacqueline Durran, for Anna Karenina, this year; Michael Kaplan, for Fight Club). They are often neglected, but contribute as much to a film’s success, and an audience’s enjoyment, as the cinematographer, the art director, and the performers themselves.

‘Hollywood Costume’ is on at the V&A until the 27th January 2013, and details can be found at http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/exhibition-hollywood-costume/.


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