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August 17 2012

Leonardo's womb, gold postboxes and crazy golf – the week in art

Da Vinci's anatomy drawings make the must-see show of the year. Plus, guerrilla gold postbox painters and battling Hitler at crazy golf in Blackpool – all in your weekly art dispatch

Exhibition of the week: Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist

These are the greatest drawings in the world and this is the most important exhibition of the year, so try to see it. They include Leonardo da Vinci's moving depiction of a foetus in the womb, among many awe-inspiring studies of the human interior. Leonardo's apparently scientifically rigorous study of the womb contains a bizarre mistake: it is modelled on a cow's womb. This is not just because at the time he made this drawing Leonardo had no access to human dissection; it is also because he believed so strongly that human anatomy must be similar to that of other animals. He recognised, like a true scientist, that we too are animals – an outrageous notion in the early 1500s. Leonardo did get to do a series of brilliant dissections of people who had died at a hospital in Florence. Today, that hospital – Santa Maria Nuova – is still a busy city infirmary. You can go and watch ambulances arriving and ponder the mystery of human life, so fragile and beautiful, that Leonardo captures in these drawings.
The Queen's Gallery, London SW1A 1AA until 7 October

Other exhibitions this week

Picasso's Vollard Suite
These sensuous prints burst with life and imagination and are among Picasso's greatest works.
British Museum, London WC1 until 2 September

Adventureland Golf
Jake and Dinos Chapman, David Shrigley and others reinvent the seaside pastime of crazy golf.
Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool until 6 October

Olympic and Paralympic Posters
There are some fine posters here by , Chris Ofili and others.
Tate Britain, London SW1 until 23 September

Simon Patterson
Last chance for a memorable exploration of the strangeness of statues.
Haunch of Venison, London W1 until 31 August

Masterpiece of the week

Unknown artist, A Dead Soldier
This eerie painting of a man dead, his body lit by an oil lamp, has the realism of a Caravaggio but is not by him. No one knows who painted this disconcertingly modern work of art. In the 19th century, it fascinated Edouard Manet, who was inspired by it to paint a picture of a dead toreador. As Manet recognised, this is a raw, blunt and unredemptive portrayal of the cold fact of death. Not only is the artist anonymous: so is the unknown soldier whose passing is remembered here forever.
National Gallery, London WC2

Image of the week

What we learned this week

How John Minihan celebrated snapping Samuel Beckett

That psychics have taken over the live art space at London's Tate Tanks

What your timeline of top artworks looks like

That gold postboxes were the surprise illegal street art of the Olympics

What upcoming photography shows you should put straight in the diary

And finally...

There's still time to share your art about sport now. Reflect on the Olympics, or look forward to the Paralympics

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August 08 2012

Peter Duggan's Artoons: the Artistic Olympics

Cartoonist Peter Duggan imagines Salvador Dalí and MC Escher joining artistic forces in the Olympic synchronised diving, while Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man goes for gold in the wrestling

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April 30 2012

Leonardo's real body of work was anatomy, claims new exhibition

Royal Collection to display scientific drawings of Renaissance polymath, which scientists say show his dedication to physiology

Leonardo da Vinci was primarily a scientist later in life, with art and painting very much a sideline – according to the biggest exhibition yet of his groundbreaking anatomical studies.

The Royal Collection is putting on display 87 pages of Leonardo's notebooks packed full of detailed notes and astonishing drawings of bones, organs, vessels and muscles.

The show's curator, Martin Claydon, said his drawings were among the finest depictions of the human body ever created. "People have known Leonardo as the archetypal renaissance man since his death almost 500 years ago, but on the whole people have seen him as a painter who conducted scientific research on the side, almost as some kind of bizarre hobby.

"What this exhibition shows is that Leonardo was primarily a scientist, at least for the latter part of his life, who executed a few paintings on the side."

Leonardo was observing things that had never been observed before – narrowing of the arteries, say, or coronary blockage and cirrhosis of the liver – and he was drawing things that had never been drawn, such as his depiction of the mechanism by which the forearm twists so that our hand can face either up or down. It would be another 200 years before the observation was repeated.

There are extraordinary drawings of cardiovascular systems, for example, and of coitus, and eddies in an animal's aortic sinus.

But the show raises many what-ifs. Leonardo had intended to publish his anatomical studies – which would have been the most important anatomical work ever written – but two things got in the way of him completing them.

One was the untimely plague death of his young collaborator, Marcantonio della Torre, and the other was the Swiss/Venetian invasion of Milan, forcing him out of the city. The studies remained largely unknown for the next 400 years.

What is known is that they were mounted in albums by the sculptor Pompeo Leoni between 1570 and 1590 and these albums made their way into the Royal Collection in the 17th century, possibly during the reign on Charles II. They were then not properly examined until 1900.

So what if he had finished his studies? "We would now regard Leonardo as one of the greatest scientists of the Renaissance and one of the greatest anatomists of all time," said Claydon. "His work would have been the most important work on anatomy ever published."

Because Leonardo's earlier work was not published, Vesalius's Humani Corporis Fabrica from 1543 is considered the first anatomy textbook.

Whether his studies would have led to medical advances is trickier. "It is not until antiseptics and anaesthetics in particular that surgeons could do anything with the knowledge that people gained through dissection," said Claydon.

• Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist is at the Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace from 4 May – 7 October © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 27 2012

Art weekly

Art and science meet in Leonardo's inspiring vision, while etchings reveal Picasso's inner world – all in your favourite weekly art dispatch

Exhibition of the week: Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist

A human foetus nestles in a womb that is like the opened skin of a horsechestnut. Drawn with exquisite tenderness and humanity, this homunculus expresses the wonder and fragility of who we are. I find it more moving than a Rembrandt portrait. In a sense, Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical drawings resemble the works of a benign alien, visiting earth and recording its dissected inhabitants with an eye godlike in its capacity to stand back and analyse, yet infinitely sensitive and loving. The delicacy with which he draws veins or nerves like webs of gossamer is just mind-boggling. To look at one of the drawings in this profound exhibition is to enter deep into the very fabric of being. To see them gathered like this is to run short of superlatives, to gawp in sheer amazement at a genius so inexplicable.

Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical drawings are among the most poignant works of art in the history of humanity. I imagine a remote future, in a distant galaxy, where the hyperevolved descendants of our species clutch one of these drawings in their jellied tentacles to remember us by.

The Queen has opened her jewel case to reveal these incredible drawings. They are given a full, spacious, and illuminating display in this terrific exhibition. Curator Martin Clayton argues that Leonardo was a full-time scientist, and a painter second, by the time he made these. The captions and supporting materials – including modern anatomical models for comparison – show how precisely and originally Leonardo explored human anatomy through dissection, in a way that was totally unprecedented. Surgeons still refer to his drawings. He made superb observations, discovering, for instance, how a heart valve works.

The exhibition argues that Leonardo's discovery of the heart valve brought his research to a tragic end: he could not make the leap from understanding valves to recognising that blood circulates. That was impossible given his medieval starting point. It would take more than a century of medical research to get to the idea of circulation. By the time Leonardo's drawings became famous, long after his death, they had been left behind by science. Yet they are the greatest images that exist of the scientific urge itself: of human curiosity. See these, and take your children – if you have them – to see them. Art is science and science is art in Leonardo's inspiring vision.

Queen's Gallery, Buckhingham Palace, London SW1, until 7 October

Other exhibitions this week

Picasso: The Vollard Suite
A tremendous series of etchings that gives a glimpse of Picasso's innermost imagination.
British Museum, London WC1, from 3 May

Bauhaus: Art as Life
The utopian art and design movement of Weimar Germany still fascinates and still points to new ideas.
• Barbican, London EC2, from 3 May

Tomb Treasures from Han China
More than 350 ancient artefacts including works in gold and jade.
• Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, from 5 May

Mika Rottenberg
Surreal and comic performance videos from New York.
• Nottingham Contemporary, from 5 May

Masterpiece of the week

Giambologna's Samson Slaying a Philistine (1560-2) in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London SW7.

When Leonardo da Vinci drew his anatomical studies the body was at the centre of art. The Renaissance cult of the nude in action gave rise to Leonardo's investigations beneath the skin. This great work by Giambologna is a powerful expression of that Renaissance art of the physical.

Image of the week

Five things we've learned this week

Spiders have pairs of penises

You could spend all day looking at the drawings of Paul Thek, the late artist whose work was our critic Adrian Searle's most surprising exhibition at the Glasgow festival of visual art

The Louvre may have overcleaned the Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne

It's all about subversive DIY at the Milan furniture fair

Jeremy Hunt has a print by Grayson Perry on his wall


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April 26 2012

French art expert says Louvre's Leonardo was overcleaned

Ségolène Bergeon Langle criticises Louvre's cleaning of Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne

One of France's most eminent art experts has criticised the Louvre Museum's cleaning of a 500-year-old Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece, The Virgin and Child With Saint Anne.

Ségolène Bergeon Langle, former director of conservation for France's national museums, accuses the team involved with the restoration of removing details of Leonardo's original work by mistaking it for repaints by later hands.

She criticises the retouching on the landscape and removal of Leonardo's own glaze on the infant's body. A dozen letters she wrote "opposing the cleaning" and warning of damage to one of western art's jewels "remained unanswered", she said.

Two of the experts on the international committee that advised on cleaning were specialists from the National Gallery in London, Larry Keith and Luke Syson.

Bergeon Langle, an authority on art restoration, resigned from the committee, along with Jean-Pierre Cuzin, the Louvre's former head of paintings, last December. At the time neither would discuss their departure. Bergeon Langle said only: "My reasons I am reserving for a meeting with the president-director of the Louvre."

But this week, she gave an interview to a prestigious French publication, Le Journal des Arts.

In January 2011, she said, the committee agreed "a gentle cleaning" of late varnishes and the removal of stains on the Virgin's cloak: "Yet, between July and October, a more pronounced clean was called 'necessary', which I objected to. I was then faced with opposition to my position, which is technical, not aesthetic." Her letters to the committee asking for details on the cleaning and materials to be used for retouching went unanswered, she said. "I had to resign."

She believes the restorers were not cautious enough. "The Virgin's face is less modelled now. The cleaning should never have gone so far … The whitened layer on Christ Child's body has been mistakenly understood as a late varnish gone mouldy." She believes it was an irreversibly [original] altered glaze: "I recommended preservation, but nobody would listen."

Considering that experts rarely speak out, her decision to go public is damning. It confirms the view of critics that the painting is left too bright and is robbed of the Renaissance master's subtlety.

As the Guardian reported last year, a Louvre source revealed that Keith and Syson were particularly keen on this restoration.

Michel Favre-Félix, president of the Association for the Respect and Integrity of Artistic Heritage in Paris, was among those alarmed by the cleaning procedures. He is now collating a dossier of evidence, challenging the restoration on "points of gross misconduct".

He said: "We are calling for the establishment of a scientific ethics committee, independent from the museums and the restoration teams, just as there is for medicine. It should re-examine the whole Saint Anne file."

Michael Daley, director of ArtWatch UK, the restoration watchdog, said he was shocked to learn that Bergeon Langle's warnings had been ignored: "It suggests either that describing what they planned would be dangerous and embarrassing or that they weren't clear what they intended to do. Either way, it's unacceptable."

The criticisms resonated with another member of the Louvre's advisory committee, Jacques Franck, consulting expert to the Armand Hammer Centre for Leonardo studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. He told the Guardian: "Restorations likely to generate such disapproval from leading experts should never be undertaken … Bergeon Langle is unquestionably France's best authority."

Asked to comment on whether other Leonardo paintings in the Louvre should be cleaned, Bergeon Langle gasped in horror: "Just do not do it!"

The Louvre and the National Gallery declined to comment. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 16 2012

Don't judge an artist by his bank balance

From Raphael to Leonardo da Vinci, artists have been getting big money for centuries. So why do we judge contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons on the fortunes they make?

The 16th-century artist Raphael once wrote a very frank letter to a relative. He wanted to explain how well he was doing in his career. The Pope was paying him thousands of gold ducats, he explained, as well as loads of gold scudi. He had also agreed to an arranged marriage with a cardinal's niece. Essentially, he was coining it in. He lived in a palace, and a visitor was amused to find it contained a statue of Philemon, an ancient writer famous for being money-grubbing.

Meanwhile, at the end of his life in France, Leonardo da Vinci was paid several thousand ecus a year by the French king and got a chateau thrown in.

It's worth remembering such tales of the wealth of the great artists when the subject of art and money comes up. There is no doubt that art and money have a crazy relationship in the 21st century. A picture of Cézanne's recovered painting The Boy in the Red Vest at a press conference in Serbia shocked me. This beautiful painting was stolen in 2008 and has now been found, mercifully unharmed. At the press conference it was flanked by two masked, armed men, just to be on the safe side. And why? The painting is valued at £82.8m.

Figures like that are hard to comprehend. The financial value put on art has become fanciful. Writing about art every day but never buying or selling any, in a way I am like a sports commentator who has never put on a pair of running shoes (you can probably think of better images). Yet in our straitened times, the money that art attracts is looked at more critically than it was during recent boom years. When people now see collectors' yachts at the Venice Biennale or a diamond skull at Tate Modern the money becomes the subject, and it may seem wrong and shameful, an absurd corruption of the creative spirit.

I beg to differ. Art has been a luxury good ever since people started to make "art" as such, and artists have been getting big money for centuries. If I say that Raphael was just as mercenary as Jeff Koons, a few answers are possible. One might be that he deserved his money and Koons does not: another might be that Raphael was more grasping than other artists in his time – but Michelangelo and Titian got just as rich. Another answer is that even the fortunes of these artists pale in comparison with contemporary artistic profits.

The last argument, that art's relationship with money today is more out of control than it ever was, makes little sense. Money itself is different. The economy is larger. The fact is that great artists in the past could earn sums that shocked their contemporaries just as they can today. Making a fortune from art is making a fortune from art.

The only honest reason to be disgusted with today's highly paid artists is that you believe their art is not worth the money. Thus opponents of conceptual art are not really appalled that a Koons makes so much money, but that he gets so much for doing what they perceive as so little. It is an argument about artistic quality disguised as an argument about morality. But some people can't see why painters should be paid, either. A footballer opined on the Guardian site last week that a Lucian Freud painting, although he liked it, wasn't worth the money paid for it. Er, how much do football players make again?

Personally I think art is worth a lot more than soccer. But that's just my opinion. Sports fans can presumably see why players are worth what they earn. Neither a sportsman nor a conceptual artist is a miner. Their work is "soft". We value it because we choose to.

The grimmest thing about these grim times is that everyone is more focused on money. It's better not to let that turn into envy. You can love or loathe this artist or that. It is, however, foolish to base that judgment on what you believe to be in their bank account. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 05 2012

The Da Vinci load: Leonardo's packing list revealed

Renaissance artist and anatomist needed pane of glass, forceps and a bone saw, a page from his notebook reveals

Spectacles, a towel and shoelaces might seem unremarkable items to add to any packing list before embarking on a journey, even in the 16th century. Few, except perhaps the Renaissance artist and anatomist Leonardo da Vinci, would also include "a pane of glass, forceps and a fine-tooth bone saw".

The extraordinary "to-do" list, written around 1510 in his distinctive mirror-writing, is taken from a page of his notebooks never before seen in public, and which gives rare insight into Leonardo, the man, as well as his thoughts on what it takes to be an anatomist.

The page is a densely packed miscellany of notes that cover the entire surface. It is thought he wrote it just before travelling to Pavia, south of Milan, to dissect corpses.

The "to-do" list, translated, reads: "On the Utilities. Spectacles with case, firestick, fork, bistoury [a surgical knife], charcoal, boards, sheets of paper, chalk, white wax, forceps, pane of glass, fine-tooth bone saw, scalpel, inkhorn, penknife.

"Get hold of a skull. Nutmeg.

"Observe the holes in the substance of the brain, where there are more of less of them.

"Describe the tongue of the woodpecker and jaw of a crocodile.

"Give measurement of the dead using his finger [as a unit].

"Get your books on anatomy bound. Boots, stockings, comb, towel, shirts, shoelaces, penknife, pens, a skin for the chest, gloves, wrapping paper, charcoal."

Glimpses of the gruesome nature of his trip, are revealed in the notes, such as a reminder "to break the jaw from the side so that you can see the uvula in its position".

The page will go on display for the first time, along with 86 other sheets from the artist's anatomical notebooks, in Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist, at the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace from 4 May.

The collection of all Leonardo's surviving anatomical studies has been part of the Royal Collection since at least 1690. It is thought the private papers were acquired by Charles II from one of the artist's successors.

In addition to his "to-do" list, Leonardo jots down warnings to other would-be anatomists, writing: "Though you may have a love of such things, you will perhaps be impeded by your stomach; and if this does not impede you, you will perhaps be impeded by the fear of living through the night hours in the company of quartered and flayed corpses."

Although Leonardo has long been recognised as one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance, the significance of his ground-breaking studies of the human body, which would have transformed European knowledge of the subject, remained lost to the world until the 20th century.

Though he intended to publish, his anatomical studies still remained among his private papers on his death in 1519. Exhibition curator Martin Clayton said of the page: "Soon afterwards we know that he was dissecting corpses in the medical school of the university of Pavia, to the south of Milan, so this packing list may have been drawn up before a journey to Pavia.

"The page is fascinating. Leonardo often covered the pages of his notebooks with observations about anatomy, but this page gives a really personal insight into Leonardo himself." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 26 2012

Grow a sunflower to solve unfinished Alan Turing experiment

Manchester Science Festival sows the seeds of a very bright idea to honour the computer genius in his centenary year

If ever there was a man for bright ideas, it was Alan Turing, and he would have loved this.

The whole of Manchester is being invited to plant sunflowers as part of the current centenary celebrations of his birth; and not just as a sentimental gesture.

Fittingly in the tradition of the great computer scientist, whose vital role in World War II's Enigma code-cracking was over-shadowed by his public disgrace for having gay sex, the event is practical and scientific. The Museum of Science and Industry and partners, including Manchester University where Turing made extraordinary strides in computer development after the war, are trying to conclude an experiment which he left unfinished.

Fascinated by numerical sequences and geometric patterns, Turing speculated that both the petals and densely-packed seedheads of sunflowers include striking examples of the Fibonacci number series – a mathematical phenomenon which is explained much more clearly than I could ever manage on this link here. When he was prosecuted in 1952, humiliated and put on a primitive course of hormone treatment, or chemical castration, this project joined many others in gathering dust.

Here's the sequence: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89…. Can you work out the next number?

Although he had been awarded an OBE, the significance of Turing's wartime work was unknown to his colleagues at Manchester university or the public at large. His death in 1954 from cyanide poisoning has been widely assumed to have been suicide although this was never officially confirmed.

His interest in Fibonacci numbers in sunflowers, and other plants, stemmed in part from his own observations and partly from his knowledge of the history of science. The excellent Turing Centenary website has a lovely drawing of him by his mother, opting out of a hockey match at school and in the words of her pencilled caption: 'watching the daisies grow.' Most daisies have 34, 55 or 89 petals – the 9th, 10th, and 11th numbers in the Fibonacci series.

Turing knew about Leonardo da Vinci's interest in the subject and acknowledged the work of a Dutch scientist, J C Schoute, who studied the patterns on 319 sunflower heads just before the Second World War. That was cited in a paper Turing wrote in 1951 about patterns and sequences in biology which he also enjoyed testing on his fledgling computers.

Then it all ended. So the Turing Sunflower Project is taking it up, with a database which will be thousands strong. Professor Jonathan Swinton, visiting professor in computational systems at Oxford University, says that the numerology could be important to understanding how plants grow. He says:

Other scientists believe that Turing's explanation of why this happens in sunflowers is along the right lines but we need to test this out on a big dataset, so the more people who can grow sunflowers, the more robust the experiment.

The project's manager Erinma Ochu says:

We hope to provide the missing evidence to test Turing's little-known theories about Fibonacci numbers in sunflowers. It would be a fitting celebration of the work of Alan Turing.

The results of the experiment will be a highlight of Manchester Science Festival in October. Details on how to register for seeds are here. Tweets on progress are here, and a blog on the festival, sunflowers included, is here. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 16 2012

Cerith Wyn Evans, Joan Miró and a new Leonardo – the week in art

Enigmatic installation art by the Sussex seaside, Spanish sculpture in Sheffield, and a hidden masterpiece – all in your weekly roundup

Exhibition of the week: Cerith Wyn Evans

The art of Cerith Wyn Evans is fiercely louche. Romantic fire flashes across silvered emptiness. Mirrors and palms, words and fireworks hang in the charged, enigmatic air of his installations. Sometimes, Wyn Evans pays homage to heroes such as Pier Paolo Pasolini in images that are historically and politically explicit. Elsewhere, he leaves meaning to be completed by the viewer in works of art that are all tentative atmosphere.

The tension in Wyn Evans' work between apparently fractured, disillusioned ambiguity – suggested by the reflective surfaces in which he shows us our own, puzzled selves – and flashes of heat and light, redolent of passion and rage, is poetic and powerful. It is fashionable now to stereotype the young British artists who made their names in the 1990s as crass and one-dimensional. But Wyn Evans is nothing if not nuanced: his installations have a baroque richness and chiaroscuro mood. There is an epic grandeur to his communication of a big and mysterious emotional life. One of our most provocative artists, in a fine place to see anyone's work; fireworks will blaze on the roof of the beachside pavilion, and flames of memory flicker on the sea.

• At De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea from 17 March until 10 June

Also opening

Leonardo da Vinci
Featuring 10 drawings from the Royal Collection, the greatest in the world of Leonardo's works, this travelling exhibition celebrates the Queen's jubilee. Take a look at his Leda.
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, until 25 March

Suzanne Treister
Hexen 2.0, a psychedelic paranoid history of the internet, is the latest art foray among the steam engines.
Science Museum, London until 1 May

Eve Arnold
A chance to reflect on the brilliance of the late Magnum photographer.
Art Sensus, London until 27 April

Martin Creed Artist Room
A new addition to the Artist Rooms collection presents an overview of Creed's everyday poetry.
Tate Liverpool until 27 May

Masterpiece of the week

Unknown 16th-century British artist, Portrait of Sir Henry Unton, c1596

This is the best bad painting in Britain. When the well-connected Elizabethan gentleman Henry Unton died in 1596, his widow commissioned this fascinating cartoon strip-style picture that encompasses his whole life, and all his achievements, in a swirl of crowded images. At the centre is a portrait of Sir Henry himself. All around him we see his travels abroad, his life on his estate, a feast where he not only watches a masque but also plays the lute – a key genteel accomplishment of the time – and his funeral. It is at once naive and packed with information, a painting that takes us into the heart of Shakespeare's Britain. Like a tomb sculpture in a parish church, it is very moving in its simplicity.

National Portrait Gallery

Image of the week

What we learned this week

The stories behind the best things photographers refused to snap

Why fishermen in Hastings are maddened this week

That Miro has descended on Yorkshire

That Billy Connolly has released his debut art collection

That a new Leonardo may have been found


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Jeremy Deller talks to Charlotte Higgins about his new show at the Hayward, Joy in People, at the Guardian Open Weekend on 24 March. New tickets released. Find out more and book at © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 12 2012

Evidence of 'hidden' Leonardo da Vinci work

Researchers who drilled through a fresco in Florence's town hall say paint used by Leonardo was found in the cavity behind

Researchers in Florence claimed on Mondaythey had hard proof that a lost masterpiece by Leonardo Da Vinci, entitled The Battle of Anghiari, exists on a wall in a cavity in Florence's town hall, where it has been hidden for five centuries.

Late last year researchers drilled tiny holes in a later fresco on the same wall in the Palazzo Vecchio which conceals the cavity. They inserted a 4mm wide probe to film inside and retrieved samples of paint. They said the paint was similar to that used by Da Vinci for the Mona Lisa.

"We need the courage to push on and resolve this mystery," said Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence, who is urging the Italian government to approve removal of parts of the later fresco, Giorgio Vasari's The Battle of Marciano in Val di Chiana, which was painted in 1563.

Da Vinci, working in the Hall of Five Hundred in the Palazzo Vecchio, in 1504, completed only the centrepiece of his work. This was later copied by Rubens, whose drawing hangs in the Louvre. After 1555 the palace room was renovated and Da Vinci's half-finished painting was believed lost forever.

A team led by Maurizio Seracini, a researcher at the University of California, San Diego, obtained permission last year to drill six holes through Vasari's fresco in search of Da Vinci's work.

The team found the 3cm-4cm (less than 2in) cavity, previously spotted with radar, behind 16m of masonry. "No other gaps exist behind the other five massive Vasari frescoes in the high ceilinged hall," the team said.

A piece of black material removed from the back wall was analysed with a scanning electron microscope. The Louvre found it to have similar properties to the black pigment used in the brown glazes on the Mona Lisa and the painting St John the Baptist, the team said.

"Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa in Florence at the same time," said Seracini. "It appears to be a pigment used by [him] and not by other artists."

Flakes of red material were identified as being possibly lacquer. "This type of material is unlikely to be present in an ordinary plastered wall," the team said.

High-definition endoscopic images also revealed beige material, on the original wall, that "could only have been applied by a paint brush".

Some art experts have petitioned against Seracini drilling through the Vasari fresco, claiming any paint found behind might have been left by another artist.

Speaking at a conference, held in front of the shrouded wall on Monday, the head of Florence's state restoration centre, Marco Ciatti, said he was not yet convinced the Da Vinci work was there.

Seracini said the holes had been drilled only in peripheral areas of the fresco which had been restored; he would be asking permission to drill in other restored areas, within 10 sq metres at the centre of the Vasari fresco.

Seracini's suspicions that Vasari did not want to destroy Da Vinci's work, preferring to add his own fresco over it, were reinforced in the 1970s, he said, when he found the artist had painted a soldier in his fresco with a flag – upon which was written "he who seeks, finds".

Backing the case for removing parts of the Vasari fresco, Seracini said a 10-metre sq section of a giant Vasari fresco in the room – depicting an injured horse lying beside a bloodied warrior pulling a spear out of his back – was removed then replaced in a search for the Battle of Anghiari in the 1980s. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

February 28 2012

Caravaggio: Renaissance rock star

The alluring paintings of Caravaggio, Leonardo and Lorenzo Costa hint at the passion of Renaissance secular music

In Caravaggio's picture The Lute Player, which the fiery Lombard artist painted in Rome in the mid-1590s, a beautiful man plays a round bodied instrument that was the electric guitar of the Renaissance. But a lot quieter. People learned the lute for the same reason that teenagers since the 1960s have learned rock guitar, because they thought it made them look sexy. In Caravaggio's painting it works – the lutenist sings seductively among sensual fruits and flowers. But what is he singing?

I've been listening to modern recordings that attempt to capture the sound of Renaissance music, and I am more baffled than ever about what it really sounded like. Looking at Caravaggio's lutenist, we imagine a romantic, alluring song. Yet in many recordings Renaissance madrigals sound like church music, they are so harmonious and pristine.

Maybe musicians who play early music should look harder at Renaissance and Baroque paintings. Works such as Leonardo's portrait of a musician, or Lorenzo Costa's picture of a woman and two men singing together, give intimate glimpses of the world of Renaissance secular music. And again and again, what they stress is the frisson of excitement and desire at the moment of performance.

There was no way to record music in that age; it was always live. That meant it was always a drama between performers and audiences. What Caravaggio's painting shows is that it could be a dangerous, daring drama, with deep issues of love and longing electrifying the chamber where those tender lute notes sounded.

So perhaps when consorts and choirs today recreate early court music, they should have a bit more fun and think less of the harmonies of Pythagoras, and more of a rock concert's drama compressed into a room that happens to be hung with gorgeous tapestries and paintings.

There is one abundantly alive genre that links us directly to the emotional power of music in the age of Caravaggio: opera. Few would deny that opera tends to be passionate and extravagant. It was invented in late 16th-century Italy, drawing together the sounds and sights of the age in a spectacle that delighted the senses.

You can still feel a tension and mythic impulse in a very early opera like Monteverdi's 1607 masterpiece Orfeo. The story Monteverdi tells in his opera is disturbing: Orpheus pursues his lost love into the underworld, and almost succeeds in bringing her back to the realm of the living, but fails at the last moment. It is a story of sex and death that perfectly matches the provocative beauty of Caravaggio's lutenist. This is what music meant 400 years ago: longing and deep emotions. Renaissance music is reborn every time an opera house thrills to grand passions. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

February 01 2012

The real Mona Lisa? Prado finds Da Vinci pupil's take

Prado says pupil painted remarkable portrait alongside Leonardo da Vinci, affording insight into how Mona Lisa actually looked

A contemporaneous copy of the world's most famous painting has been sensationally discovered by conservators at the Prado in Madrid, allowing us to see the Mona Lisa as she would probably have looked at the time.

In art historical terms, the discovery is nothing short of remarkable. The Prado painting had long been thought to be one of dozens of surviving replicas of Leonardo's masterpiece, made in the 16th and 17th centuries.

But, the Arts Newspaper reports, recent conservation reveals that the work was in fact painted by a pupil working alongside Leonardo.

The original painting hangs behind glass and with enormous security at the Louvre, a gallery it is unlikely to ever leave. There is also no prospect of it being cleaned in the forseeable future, meaning crowds view a work that, although undeniably beautiful, has several layers of old, cracked varnish.

This newly discovered work – found under black overpaint – allows the viewer to see a much fresher version of the captivating young woman, generally acknowledged to be Lisa Gherardini, the wife of the Florentine cloth merchant Francesco del Giocondo.

The Prado said the restoration had been carried out over the past few months in preparation for an exhibition at the Louvre in March.

Details of the discovery were revealed at a recent Leonardo symposium of experts at the National Gallery in London, which is how the story emerged, a spokeswoman said, adding that there was more conservation work needed and that the painting would not be revealed in its full glory for around three weeks.

"There is much more to see. The process of conservation is still going on, we have not finished." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 29 2012

The fine art of Barbie-sitting

How does the Barbie doll compare with the models who inspired the old masters? Artist Jocelyne Grivaud set out to discover

January 27 2012

National Gallery assistants escalate their dispute over staffing cuts

Policy of 'doubling up' leads to second strike and further discontent from staff who say security is at risk

In room 34 of the National Gallery, under the forbidding eye of Reynolds's Lord Heathfield, visitors are informed that among the mists and swirls of a Turner lurks the tiniest wisp of a hare.

For them, it is a point of intrigue; for the assistant on duty, says Neville Maguire, it is a potential hazard. "It's a tiny sliver of paint and people are always getting up close to it – pointing and actually touching it."

He and his colleagues all have their stories to tell: of the woman who fell in front of a painting, or the man who tried to punch one.

Maguire's personal favourite is of the visitor who, trying to steady himself during a talk, grabbed hold of the nearest thing to him. It just happened to be a Constable.

Used to standing quietly in the shadows while the spotlight shines on a Leonardo or Caravaggio or Velázquez, the National Gallery's warders – or assistants, as they are known these days – do not tend to draw attention to themselves. But, at the moment, that is exactly what they are doing.

Last week's two-hour stoppage, which saw between 30 and 40 assistants walk off the job, forced the temporary closure of around 35 rooms, though not the blockbuster Leonardo exhibition. Another strike is due to take place between 3pm and 6pm on Saturday.

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which counts 150 gallery assistants as members, has warned that more could be on the way if nothing changes.

At the heart of the dispute is the question of staffing: whereas traditionally assistants used to have one room to guard, they now, increasingly, have two.

The National insists it took the decision to implement this new invigilation method – which the assistants call "doubling up" – out of a desire to enhance security.

It had, it says, made up its mind about it before the government announced in 2010 that it was cutting funding to the museum by 15%.

But the PCS, which says the National has had to cut £1.5m from its staffing costs because of the cut, has leapt on the new measures as evidence of the impact of austerity on the arts.

Regardless of the reason for the changes, the assistants taking part in the industrial action are agreed that the measures will do nothing to improve security.

On the contrary, they say, "doubling up" leaves them less able to help visitors and – crucially – less able to protect the art.

"If they don't want us to guard the paintings, be open about it," protested John Kennedy, a 49-year-old assistant, who has done the job for nearly 13 years. "It's going to end up with one of us going round on a Boris bike," he joked. No one laughed.

Another assistant, who did not want to give his name, said in whispers: "We have 20 million visitors a year. Now we have the Leonardo. This year we have the Olympics. I don't know what they're thinking."

As part security guard, part museum guide, the National's assistants occupy a vaguely defined yet crucial role in keeping the gallery running.

It is their job to monitor rooms and give directions, to look out for threats and, if they wish, to give information about the art.

"In the past many of the people who took the role on may have been from an ex-services background and they may have seen themselves more as muscle power or prevention," said one assistant, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"But as time goes on people are more interested in talking to people more. There's more people with arts degrees … Staff try where they can to engage, to help where they can, speak other languages. It gives us more job satisfaction as well to be available so people can ask us questions."

The PCS claims that last year, when a man walked into the gallery and threw red paint over Poussin's The Adoration of the Golden Calf, the assistant on duty was in the adjoining room. Had he been there, the union says, the attack "would not have happened".

The National disputes this version of events: it insists the assistant was shown on CCTV to have been in the doorway of the room during the attack.

It says the new invigilation method has already been adopted by museums across Europe and the US. But the assistants are fuming at this comparison.

"Guarding two rooms may be part of what other galleries are doing," said one, "but this is matched with tighter controls on what can be brought into the gallery in terms of luggage for the cloakrooms and also rules on photography, size of bags, use of mobiles, drinks and food."

For the assistants, many of whom have worked at the gallery for years on a wage of up to £17,000 a year, the row is a smack in the face.

Many of them say they have striven to get away from the timeworn image of assistants snoozing in the corner and to set an example as welcoming, informative and – above all – alert.

They talk of the pleasure of working in, as one assistant put it, a "treasure of the nation". But that can only go so far.

"It is a privilege to be in this building and see the paintings," said Maguire, a retired English teacher. "It is spoiled by the fact that we are treated and denigrated in such a manner." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

December 30 2011

December 28 2011

Louvre's Leonardo was overcleaned, say art experts

Ségolène Bergeon Langle and Jean-Pierre Cuzin quit advisory posts over The Virgin and Child With St Anne's restoration

The Louvre is facing accusations that it overcleaned a masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci, leaving it with a brightness that the Renaissance master never intended.

Two of France's top art experts have voiced their protest over the cleaning of The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne – a jewel of western art – by resigning from the Paris museum's advisory committee responsible for its "restoration", the Guardian has learned.

Such was their concern for the 500-year-old painting that Ségolène Bergeon Langle and Jean-Pierre Cuzin – eminent former specialists in conservation and painting respectively at the Louvre – could no longer associate themselves with its treatment.

Bergeon Langle is regarded as France's national authority on the art and the science of restoring paintings. She was director of conservation for all of France's national museums.

She said: "I can confirm that I have resigned from the international consultative committee, but my reasons I am reserving for a meeting with the president-director of the Louvre, Henri Loyrette."

Cuzin, the Louvre's former head of paintings, declined to comment beyond confirming his resignation. But a senior museum source said the experts believed the restoration had gone too far, and that steps had gone ahead without adequate tests. The restoration has divided the committee between those who believe the painting is now too bright and those who regard the cleaning as moderate. There were also disputes over whether an area dismissed as removable repaint was in fact a glaze applied by Leonardo.

Two such resignations are a major embarrassment for the Louvre as well as for fellow colleagues of the international committee, whose 20 members include two specialists from the National Gallery in London, Larry Keith and Luke Syson.

The Louvre source said that Keith and Syson were particularly keen on this restoration: "The English were very pushing, saying they know Leonardo is extremely delicate but 'we can move without any danger to the work'. There was a row a year ago about solvents because they said they were safe and Bergeon Langle said they're not safe. It took a long time before the committee really had explanations on the chemicals used on the picture. Details were asked for [by the critics on the committee], but didn't come for months …

"There are people who are very much for bright hues and strong cleaning. Those people are in charge."

The Louvre source, too, has concerns that it has been overcleaned, but awaits the reaction once the painting is viewed again by experts on 3 January. They will then decide on the retouching.

Jacques Franck, consulting expert to the Armand Hammer centre for Leonardo studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, is another member of the committee. He described the resignations as a loss, saying Bergeon Langle was "totally irreplaceable as a technical adviser to the committee".

Seventeen years ago, the Louvre abandoned an earlier attempt to clean the painting amid fears over how the solvents were affecting the sfumato, Leonardo's trademark painterly effect for blurring contours. Since then, the British influence on restoration has helped to sway the Louvre.

Michael Daley, director of ArtWatch UK, the restoration watchdog that has repeatedly criticised the National Gallery for its "overzealous" cleaning of paintings, said of the resignations: "Implicitly, this is a vote of no confidence in the National Gallery cleaning policy because the most pro-active members of the [Louvre] committee have been the advisers from the National Gallery."

The Louvre declined to comment on the two resignations, but defended its cleaning process. Vincent Pomarède, the Louvre's head of paintings, said: "Rarely has a restoration been as well prepared, discussed and effected, and never will it have benefited from such effective techniques. The first assessment revealed the excellent state of conservation … comforting us in the choices made."

The National Gallery declined to comment. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

December 23 2011

My personal wonders of 2011: an un-newsworthy anti-roundup

From Martini and Memmi's Annunciation to Titian's Venus of Urbino, it's been a year of meandering artistic discoveries

A lot of news the media publish is pure fiction. I do not mean lies. It's just that, in defining certain categories of events as news, you impose a false grid on reality. It has its uses, but it often results in reams of words that don't really have much to do with anything.

Take the idea of rounding up the year. It seems like common sense, but has nothing to do with how anyone really thinks. Have you ever sat down in the Christmas holidays to list the most important events and experiences of your year? No, nor have I.

Time is not linear. It is enigmatic; we experience it in complex ways. So here is my anti-roundup of the art that meant most to me in 2011. The point is, this mixture does not fit into any conventional definition of the newsworthy, the contemporary or the relevant. We encounter art in our own meandering way. My personal wonders of 2011, in order of wondrousness:

The Annunciation, by Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

This magical work of art, created in 1333, has not been in any exhibition this year. But I was lucky enough to visit the Uffizi Gallery and I got stuck in the first room, trapped by this painting. I first saw it while on holiday with my parents as a child. And this year, the beauty of it hit me all over again and meant more than any other work of art.

The Watts Towers, Los Angeles

I've wanted to see these amazing spindles of wire and glass for much of my life. This year I made the pilgrimage. It was truly worthwhile; Simon Rodia's dreaming spires are among America's great wonders.

The Lady with an Ermine, in Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan, at the National Gallery, London

This actually is in the year's finest exhibition, so here my timeline intersects with the news diary. I had never seen it before in the flesh, so to speak, and although – as with the Mona Lisa – the sheer fame of the portrait initially made it hard to respond. I was soon in love, however. Unlike the Mona Lisa, no one is ever likely to suggest she is really a man.

Annie, Poured from Maple Syrup by Ed Ruscha

It's hard to explain why this painting transfixed me at the Norton Simon museum in Pasadena. But it did.

The Venus of Urbino by Titian in the Uffizi, Florence

I did eventually get past Simone Martini in the Uffizi to gawp at how miraculously Titian paints nipples.

Enjoy Christmas. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

December 15 2011

From the archive, 15 December 1913: Mona Lisa's return: Theft from Louvre explained

Originally published in the Manchester Guardian on 15 December 1913

The report that Leonardo da Vinci's famous portrait of "Mona Lisa" has been found in Florence seems amply confirmed.

What is known of the theft from the Paris Louvre in August, 1911, and the discovery in Florence last week, is that an Italian named Perugia a few days ago attempted to sell the picture to a Florentine dealer. When arrested he said he had been employed for several years at the Louvre. One day when alone in the room where the "Mona Lisa" hung he broke up the frame and hid the panel under his blouse. By that means he was able to remove it unobserved. Recently he wrote to the dealer in Florence and with him opened the negotiations which led to his arrest.

When the news reached Paris, where Perugia had once been sentenced for some petty offence, the police searched their records and found that the markings of the man's thumb corresponded exactly with an impression made by the thief on the broken frame which he left behind.

The "Giornale d'Italia" has received an interview with Signor Geri, who is director of an "Ancient and Modern Art Gallery" there. Signor Geri states that in a letter from Paris, Perugia, who signed himself "Leonard," gave him the fullest assurances regarding the authenticity of the picture and promised to allow him a reduction of 25 per cent on the price for the benefit of the public galleries of Italy. Signor Geri and Professor Poggi, to whom the letter was shown, thought it was a joke.

On December 10 "Leonard" called on Signor Geri. He at once asked Signor Geri to come to his hotel, and, showing him the picture, asked 500,000 francs for it. Signor Geri agreed, and asked him to come next day to the Uffizi Gallery to verify the picture. "Leonard" arrived a little late, and the three repaired to his hotel, where he showed them the picture. After examining it Professor Poggi said that it must be conveyed to the Uffizi for identification. "Leonard" consented, and took the "Gioconda", wrapped in red cloth, under his arm. They drove to the Uffizi, where the work's authenticity was established.

Perugia was arrested in an hotel just as he was coming downstairs. Signor Tarantelli, chief of police, said he had interrogated Perugia at length. He was convinced that the statements made by Perugia were sincere. In his opinion Perugia is not abnormal, but a simple fellow who did not altogether understand the importance of his action.

[Vincenzo Perugia was hailed a national hero by the Italian press. He served seven months in jail.] © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

December 14 2011

Readers' cultural review of 2011: What, no Katy B?

Last week our critics picked their highlights of 2011. Did they get it right? Readers respond with their own highs (and lows)


One Man, Two Guvnors was the most fun I've had in a theatre for years – easily the best play of 2011, and James Corden best performer. The National theatre largely misfired for me: A Woman Killed with Kindness, Cherry Orchard, 13, The Kitchen, Frankenstein and Greenland were all largely disappointing.

The RSC's Homecoming was the best revival. Rupert Goold's Merchant of Venice was great fun, even if the inconsistency in Portia's characterisation (from ditzy blond Glee fan to brilliant prosecutor, hm) took the edge off it.

Tom Brooke was my favourite actor of the year – in The Kitchen, and I Am the Wind.


Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid are still two of my least-admired starchitects. However, credit where it's due. I had the pleasure of wandering Toronto's AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario), redesigned by Gehry [a few years ago], and apart from his usual frivolous facade, the interior had been quite brilliantly done. So restrained and sophisticated: words I never never thought I'd use for the old showboater.


Katy B owned pop in 2011, or temporarily leased the lower sections of the charts from Adele at least. Seven singles off one album and a successful B-side, bridging the gap between cool, intriguing dance and charming, relatable 2000s-style British pop-star writing. Loved it.


The programme of the year has been Mark Cousins' superb history of the cinema, The Story of Film: An Odyssey, on More4. Incredibly wide-ranging, informative and inspiring, with extremely intelligent analysis of how film developed and how the great directors innovated.


Artist Christian Marclay's awesome 24-hour film-montage The Clock, shown as part of the British Art Show in Plymouth. Mesmeric, fascinating, witty editing and marvellous film-buffery content.


The Inbetweeners Movie. The snobs may scoff but this film says more about Britain and its youth than 20 Ken Loach films ever could.


Two of the greatest musical evenings were the appearances of the Budapest Festival Orchestra and Ivan Fischer in Mahler's First symphony, and the zany late-night Prom with audience requests including Bartók, Kodály and Stravinsky. A month before that, the magic combination of Andris Nelsons and the CBSO in Richard Strauss and Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky.

At the Royal Opera, the three most memorable performances were Madama Butterfly with Kristine Opolais in the title role and her husband Andris Nelsons in the pit; Werther with Sophie Koch and Rolando Villazón doing his best (still short of what Jonas Kaufmann can do); and the recent revival of Faust, with Vittorio Grigolo, René Pape, Angela Gheorghiu and Dmitri Hvorostovsky.


The release by the BFI on DVD and Blu-Ray of Barney Platts-Mills's 1971 film Private Road, starring Bruce Robinson (who later wrote Withnail and I). I first saw this in about 1987 on TV and I've been wanting to see it again ever since. Even better than I thought.


Gruff Rhys's Hotel Shampoo was my favourite album of the year; Cashier No 9 was not given the recognition it deserved. Enjoyed Kate Bush, Tinie Tempah, Noel Gallagher and Will Young's offerings, but very disappointed with Coldplay. Adele: lovely voice but too many songs sound the same on her album.

Still, it wasn't all bad: the end of Westlife and hopefully the beginning of the end for X Factor.


Right Here Right Now; Format international photography festival in Derby. Thousands of photographers took part from all over the world, including Joel Meyerowitz and Bruce Gilden. An exciting and eclectic mix showing the best in street photography.


Best resurrection: Rab C Nesbitt. Comedy of the year for me. Now that the Tories are back in, he seems to have found his mojo again.


Leonardo da Vinci at the National Gallery. I think the major problem with this absurdly hyped show is that, apart from the two versions of the Virgin of the Rocks and the unfinished St Jerome, the other six "Leonardo" paintings on display are either too unattractively gauche, stiff and mannered to be considered good or significant. Or they're too implausibly naturalistic to be an autograph work (La Belle Ferronière is too lifelike to be by Leonardo). Or just too plain weird and damaged to take seriously (step forward, the newly discovered Salvator Mundi).

Thank you, Adrian Searle, for having the integrity to give your honest opinion about this insanely promoted but hugely disappointing show.


The High Country, an album by Portland band Richmond Fontaine, demands your attention from first song to last. It's one of the only albums that will give you the same sense of satisfaction that finishing a novel does.


Bridesmaids was a great and genuinely funny film. Comedies (and female comedians) are too frequently dismissed, especially by the Oscars board.


British Art Show 7: In the Days of the Comet in Plymouth. It was good to see [Christian Marclay's] The Clock and Sarah Lucas's work up close and personal. At least there is an emphasis on craft skills in video art: good focus, framing and timing are back in fashion.


Nicola Roberts, the good one from Girls Aloud. In her album Cinderella's Eyes she lays out her inner demons and anguish on a platter of sumptuous dance pop hooks and beats. The album is so simple that my two-year-old can sing along, and layered enough that we slightly elder statesmen can appreciate it as well.


In no particular order: Sufjan Stevens live at Southbank: ambitious, experimental, joyous, exciting, sad. Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle: the sixth episode, Democracy, was quite simply awesome. Senna is my film pick: made in 2010, but didn't get released on these shores until 2011. Wonderfully moving.


Propeller's Comedy of Errors was riotous. I mean, how often does a naked grown man run past you with a sparkler wedged into his buttocks?


Archipelago is the worst film I have ever seen in 50-odd years of cinema-going. How Peter Bradshaw and Philip French can find a single redeeming quality in this dreadful two-hour river of bathetic, emotionless, drama-free drivel baffles me.


I loved Attack the Block. I got mugged the week before it was released and actually found watching it quite cathartic. I was rooting for the little shits by the end. That's good screenwriting.


A really disappointing year for British TV, which has been on a downward slide. Doctor Who was probably still the best thing domestically. The Crimson Petal and the White and The Hour were underwhelming misfires; The Shadow Line was about the only really promising new kid on the block.

The basic problem is that there's just not enough TV drama being produced. We need more one-offs, more Plays for Today to allow TV to find new voices and take more chances. Everything seems to be market-researched and focus-grouped into mediocrity.


We went to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park this summer and were blown away by the incredible Jaume Plensa exhibition; the alabaster heads took my breath away. Beautiful, mesmerising and enchanting.


Memorable plays: Flare Path, Frankenstein (Jonny Lee Miller as the Creature was brilliant), and Much Ado at the Globe (Eve Best and Charles Edwards were good enough to almost match my memories of Janet McTeer and Mark Rylance as Beatrice and Benedick).

Damper squibs were Chicken Soup with Barley (far too long). Conor Macpherson's The Veil at the National started brilliantly but didn't deliver the beautiful, haunting, elegiac power of The Weir – a great shame.


There were aspects of Grayson Perry's Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman that drove me round the bend. But he wrote well about his theme and chose some absolutely lovely objects from the British Museum's collection.


85A collective from Glasgow's brilliant mechanical opera Idimov and the Dancing Girl at the Secret Garden Party. Spooky, funny, ingenious.


The Tree of Life: a vast expansive film with multiple interpretations, and little in the way of film convention for the casual viewer to latch on to. Viewers fall into two camps I think: those who want simply to be entertained and led, and those who want to explore and participate. Tree of Life is about participation.


I just couldn't get The Tree of Life. I tried. I wanted to like it. Admittedly I was on a Singapore Airlines flight, which is not the ideal way to appreciate its cinematic beauty.


The Tree of Life is quite possibly the most overrated movie of all time. The sheer brilliance of every single actor isn't in dispute, nor is the superb cinematography. The movie itself is the problem, because it's a real clunker. It's also one of the few films I've seen at the cinema where people were either (vociferously) walking out in disgust or staying behind just to boo.


The [designs for the] new US Embassy in London. I realise these buildings have to be more fortresses than offices, but really. I'm disappointed that such an important new commission isn't going to be more iconic. Especially since I live opposite the site.


Possibly the biggest disappointment was the final track on Bon Iver's second album: it never fails to surprise me with just how cheesy and plain bad it is.


Some of my favourite moments have been in otherwise unremarkable shows. I was slowly won over by Susan Hiller at Tate Modern, and Nancy Spero's works Azur and Hours of the Night II [at the Serpentine] were so incredible I forgot all the meh stuff that surrounded them. The only exhibition I have been unreservedly knocked over by was Mike Nelson's Coral Reef at Tate Britain – an old piece so I'm not sure it counts. Not a superlative year; let's hope 2012 is better and isn't overwhelmed by a spurious Cultural Olympiad. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

November 20 2011

Leonardo da Vinci exhibition threatened by strike vote

National Gallery staff support action over security cuts which they believe will make collection vulnerable to damage or theft

Art lovers planning to attend the National Gallery's blockbuster Leonardo da Vinci exhibition could find themselves unable to view the show after staff voted in an indicative ballot for strike action.

Gallery assistants voted overwhelmingly to support the action over security cuts which they believe will make the national art collection more vulnerable to damage or theft.

Under government pressure to make cuts, the gallery ordered that each assistant should keep watch over two rooms rather than one. The gallery insists this is a "more effective" approach, adopted by other important institutions worldwide, and is not driven by cost-cutting.

But warders say security includes controls against vandalism – such as the spray paint attack on two Poussin masterpieces in July – and frequently having to prevent visitors from touching pictures. They talk of "blind-spots" in the gallery's layout and argue that it is not just art that will suffer from security cuts. The move to reduce the number of warders has already raised concerns among some art and security experts, as the Guardian reported in August.

Warders argue that nothing is safe and security is more vital than ever. Earlier this month, even toilet seats were targeted by a thief. A man was able to stuff four of them into his rucksack and walk out.

Wynne Parry of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), which represents the warders, said almost 180 members voted in an indicative ballot. "It was a very strong, four-to-one support in favour of taking strike action." He confirmed that random two-hour walk-outs are planned over the Christmas period, which would force the evacuation of visitors.

Under UK legislation, they must now hold a formal ballot, he said. "But we've heard a clear message. They're prepared to take industrial action … We are still seeking a solution [with management], but it's proving very difficult to get to."

The Leonardo exhibition has attracted superlative reviews, sold-out advance tickets and visitors prepared to endure long queues for limited entry slots on the day. Two £16 tickets were offered yesterday on eBay for £133. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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