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Wow, a giant!  Not quite.  Don’t be misled, those are actually very small houses…

Like doll’s houses?  Exactly like doll’s houses…  Collected by the British artist Rachel Whiteread over two decades and kept in her basement ever since, the doll’s houses now get their chance to be centre stage.

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Read the papers: modern life is symbolised by the recalcitrant mosquito swarm of the paparazzi; the beleaguered celebrity constant prey to the hordes of vicious fucks with the telephoto lenses.  And well, yeah, they are.  But then they also have their bodyguards, expensive lawyers, millions of pounds in their back pockets from selling the non-pap photos of their firstborn, plus an apparently incurable desire to eat in restaurants that happen to have hordes of those vicious paparazzi fucks outside.  You win some, you lose some.

Tate Modern’s sporadically fascinating new photography exhibition – Street & Studio: An Urban History of Photography – tells another story though: the control that a photographer can wield over the lives of those who have neither resources nor power.  This mastery is a truly double-edged sword.  The documentary evidence of cruelty, war, poverty and pestilence has often proved a vital catalyst for social change.  On the other hand, the intrusion into the personal misery (or even just mundanity) of those whom are otherwise nameless, penniless and occasionally also oblivious to their role as subject, raises some weighty ethical concerns.

 

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To the best of my knowledge, this is only the second English language review of the Prado’s ambitious Goya in Times of War exhibition thus farAs such, I feel the weight of such an important duty rest heavily on my shoulders – I only hope I can do both you, my dear reader, and the exhibition justice.

 

Dos de Mayo

 

First and foremost, some (highly significant) context.  Madrid’s magnificent Prado gallery already houses the greatest Goya collection in the world, but this is its first retrospective proper in over a decade.  The occasion?  Nothing less than the 200-year anniversary of the most evocative date in Spanish history: the 2nd of May 1808

This famous uprising against French oppressors – not to mention the bloody revenge exacted the following day – retains legendary status for the Spanish people and inspired some of Goya’s greatest work.  However, as we shall come to see, our friend Goya was somewhat more equivocal in his treatment of the events than many of his compatriots.

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There is perhaps just one of the many ‘achievements’ of Tony Blair’s New Labour administration that has proved uncontroversial and universally popular.  It also happens to be the only one that directly relates to this blog: the 2001 decision to abolish entry fees to a number of the UK’s major museums and art galleries.

How wonderful then to see the Times living up to its reputation and asking for us plebs to be charged again to ‘encourage quality’ in a recent article their web editors have signposted under “Intellect R.I.P.”:

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