So, it’s confession time. Dry January has turned into damp January, fuelled by my utter lack of resistance to a martini, served green side-up with two juicy olives – one of my Five-a-Day, right? Is it wrong of me to say it was the best thing I tasted all week? Well, we all needed some cheer in what’s referred to as the gloomiest week of the year, and I thanked my lucky stars for the arty week that was in London. There were some whoppers on the menu, starting with French neo-Impressionist Pierre Bonnard, followed by some soggy viewing at the Royal Academy, and finished off with a sneak peek inside the neo-Gothic home of the world’s richest American. It’s safe to say that by the end of the week, I was culturally drenched.
Pierre Bonnard at Tate Modern
Thank you, Tate, for injecting some well-needed colour into a week which could have gone down the fifty shades of grey route. Its new exhibition, Pierre Bonnard, The Colour of Memory, gets its title from the painter’s clever technique of reimagining memory onto canvas. Bonnard liked to take his cues from the mind’s eye.
Bonnard swapped the easel for the wall, pinning his canvases in such a way that he could work on several side by side (“to work with imposed sizes is intolerable”). Despite these large spaces, physical or those of his mind, Bonnard’s works are all about emotion, intimacy and detail: from his close-ups of a woman in a bath (more often than not, his long-term partner, Marthe de Méligny) to his collection of pastoral nude Polaroids. Méligny certainly spent a lot of time in the rude.
The Tate’s exhibition brings together some 100 works from around the world. The last time Bonnard was in town was 20 years ago. I hope he doesn’t leave it that long for his next visit. Pierre Bonnard: The Colour of Memory is on at Tate Modern to 6 May.
Bill Viola / Michelangelo at the Royal Academy
There was a lot more H2O coming my way, this time inside the Royal Academy and in the company of video artist Bill Viola. A cavernous exhibition (don’t come if you’re uncomfortable walking around in the dark) Bill Viola/Michelangelo, Life, Death, Rebirth juxtaposes 12 major Viola video installations with 15 works by Michelangelo, most of which are on loan from Her Majesty the Queen. The Academy would like us to believe that these two artists, working five centuries apart, are somehow connected thanks to their affection for spiritual art and their visual narration of the journey of life from birth to death.
Viola’s works are hard to watch, yet you can’t tear your eyes away. A video of a woman giving birth shoulders a video of Viola’s mother dying in a hospital bed. Suddenly, Michelangelo’s A Children’s Bacchanal, a gang of unruly toddlers behaving very badly, seems quite tame in comparison.
I’m not going to lie – this one left me a little baffled. Viola’s works are breathtaking, shocking, moving and bewildering in equal measure. But did we need to see him as Michelangelo’s bedfellow? Having said that, Viola/Michelangelo has certainly caused a stir in town, no less with all we bloggers. And after all, isn’t that what art is all about? Bill Viola/Michelangelo, Life, Death, Rebirth is on at the Royal Academy until 31 March.
John Ruskin at Two Temple Place
One of the city’s most-loved architectural gems, Two Temple Place, comes out of hiding for a few months each year during its annual exhibition. And what a treat it was to combine a tour of this mansion with its latest offering: John Ruskin, The Power of Seeing.
Once home to William Waldorf Astor, the richest man on the planet, Two Temple Place is a Gothic masterpiece. The house is marking the bicentenary of the birth of Britain’s most famous Victorian art critic by bringing together over 190 works which illustrate Ruskin’s attitude to beauty and his views on culture. The exhibition also reveals his contemporary influence in the arts, education and in the environment.
And it’s all free! I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: we Londoners are the luckiest culture vultures in the world with our free access to museums, galleries and historic houses. There’s no excuse to say you can’t go – Ruskin might just bite your head off it you tried. John Ruskin, The Power of Seeing is on at Two Temple Place until 22 April.
Leave to Remain at the Lyric Hammersmith
The first thing you’ll be pleased to know is that Leave to Remain at the Lyric Hammersmith is not about Brexit. Hurrah. The next thing you need to know is that it’s 1 hour and 50 minutes with no interval, so you might want to re-think that pre-theatre drink before you get your bum parked into the seat.
A new musical written by Matt Jones with Bloc Party songwriter, Kele Okereke, Leave to Remain is much more than its story – gay love, drug addiction and race, which we’ve all seen before. The music and the physicality of the production wins the day here, together with some serious acting prowess from the whole ensemble.
This piece of theatre is full of charm and will leave you a little misty-eyed. You’ll love the catchy tunes, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll develop a little crush on rising star, Tyrone Huntley. Leave to Remain is playing at the Lyric Hammersmith until 16 Feb.
Alan Titchmarch at Strawberry Hill House
Have I told you how much I loathe Valentine’s Day and all of its general ickiness? I suggest you avoid Cupid’s arrow on the 14th and take wing over to Horace Walple’s gothic home, Strawberry Hill, instead. You could spend the morning with the Alan Titchmarch, Britain’s most-loved gardener. Titchmarch will be exploring the role of the garden throughout Strawberry Hill’s history and how the house played host to glamorous parties across the centuries. The tour includes a curated talk on the Lost Treasures exhibition which closes at the end of February.
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Feature Image: Pierre Bonnard, Sunlight at Veronnet, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff