Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sorry for the disruption in service.

Back here from 4th June.

From NYC with love.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Top of the heap

"I...wonder what it is in the New York air that enables me to sit up till all hours of the night in an atmosphere which in London would make a horse dizzy, but here merely clears the brain." James Agate

Greetings from NYC.

Back blogging next week. Have a good one.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Banksy unveiled

Until now London's (and Brangelina's) favorite graffiti artist Banksy was known only through his tongue-in-cheek stunts and his vaguely anti-establishment stencils. But thanks to some legal gymnastics, Banksy is finally revealed. And surprise! He looks just like an Average Bloke. Now this is either good news or bad news. If you like your artists quirky, say like Dali, that such works as a painted elephant emanated from such a jejune fellow is bound to be disappointing. However, if you're a fan of Jeff Koons and Gerhard Richter and other boring-looking artists, you might find it uplifting that such work flows from such a bland container.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Hey You

Sex romps, reinvention songs, and club anthems be damned — it doesn't take a die-hard Madonna fan to know and love her soft and sappy side. ("Crazy for You," anyone?) So it's not necessarily a bad thing that you can't krump to her new single "Hey You," a Live Earth–inspired track that's free to the first million downloaders before she sings it live at Wembley Stadium.

But this isn't one of Ms. Ciccone's classic party's-over ballads. With guitar plucking that sounds cautious enough to be M's own, a ra pum pum pum drummer-boy beat, and requisite string-orchestra swells, "Hey You" reinvents you-know-who as … a girlish camp counselor wearing a red-string bracelet. The chin-up platitudes here are too vague for Kabbalah propaganda, though. The sole innovation is a Möbius-strip lyric that could be used at Gitmo Bay: "First love yourself then you can love someone else / if you can change someone else then you have saved someone else / but you must first love yourself if you can change someone else / then you have saved someone else but you must first love yourself…"

I am left wondering if the daisy chain I just wove is strong enough to hang myself?

'Hey You' is free from MSN here.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

In this corner

Today we have another inexplicably well-publicised Lily Allen sponsored gloves off in the music pages. Whereas yesterday she was thinking about gastric surgery and feeling fat and ugly, today she’s revealed its Cheryl Tweedy-Cole’s fault - you know the Girls Aloud singer that moonlights as a preening, self-absorbed wife of a middling footballer. Ding ding - corners please. It is time to take sides and pledge your support because the war of Girls Aloud Vs Lily could last years.

But, thankfully, London is blessed with a new contender and this one is outside the ring: 23 -year old Remi Nicole who has lived on the sunny side of the Thames all her life, flitting between Holloway, Islington, Highgate, Tufnell Park and presently residing in Highbury.

Her first single "Fed Up" is out this week on Island Records. She started gigging with Mr. Hudson and the Library a few months back and is now set to open for Amy Winehouse later this month. Just the thought of what's in store for her makes me smile - dare I say, Lily Allen-style.

Check out Remi's myspace page.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Critical mess

Is anyone else weary of the current media frenzy feeding off of Lily Allen's insipid moan (read PR stunt) about being "fat, ugly and sh**er than Winehouse?" Er, personally I think her issues stem more from dressing like like a 50’s housewife meets pep rally cheerleader than her body image or lack of talent. But, enough of that, there are far bigger drama queens to concern ourselves with this week. Literally.

Over on the Guardian website, Nicholas Hytner's (current NT Director) blast against 'dead white male theatre critics' seems to have provoked some washing of dirty linen in public, with No 1 drama critic Michael Billington and No 2 drama critic Lyn Gardner lobbing overpriced icecreams at each other from the back of the stalls. And as any NT goer worth a £10 Travelex seat will know, there have been a few duds recently at the National, but I still thought Hytner's comments a bit churlish.

The larger crisis in theatre today certainly isn't the critics, but rather a shortage of good new plays. There are plenty of mediocre ones around, and over-praising them isn't going to help anyone. But, thankfully, under praising doesn't have to kill them. Just take the Guardian's two-star bashing of the Royal Court's subsequent storming sell-out 'That Face'. The point is that sometimes, when half the critical world is up in arms, and the other half in rapture, then you could be in for a treat. Rather than pan the reviewers Hytner-style, isn't it better to get a sense of the individual critic's aesthetics and orient their taste in relation to yours? Thus one can formulate, in time, simple rules, such as (hypothetically of course): "If Lyn Garnder of the Guardian hates it, then I will love it."

Monday, May 14, 2007

A pretty penny

Are the Euros trumping the Yanks? Half a billion dollars in art sold last Tuesday and Wednesday in New York, but for the first time in decades, American buyers didn’t win most of the masterpieces at the big spring sales at Sotheby's and Christie's. This not only means some great art is leaving the U.S. but also that other nations are calling what's hot.

Christie's auctioneer Christopher Burge said only 29 percent of the buyers last week were Americans; about half were Europeans and Russians, and the remaining artworks went to Asians and a group dubbed “others,” which covers Middle Eastern billionaires and Latin Americans. (Sotheby's reported a similar breakdown Tuesday night.) Suffice it to say when Monte Carlo billionaire David Nahmad outbids Larry Gagosian for work by obscure Italian futurist movement painter Marino Marini, art history winds have shifted.

Artists with Euro followings — Feininger and Kirchner — also went thought the roof. Is it the weak dollar? The booming Berlin art scene? The fact that more and more Russians are pouring their oil, metal, and vodka fortunes into art? Whatever the case, Sotheby's raised $280 million on Tuesday, with 90 percent of the artworks sold. And tomorrow the fireworks begin in contemporary art. Sotheby's is offering "White Centre" (pictured here) by Rothko that has inspired a cult. Expect upwards of $50 million. But not to worry. If such a sum is beyond your budget, there is a second Rothko in the sale, a smaller work on paper. At an estimated selling price of between $1.5m and $2m, it’s a steal.

Sotheby's sale of contemporary paintings is to be held in New York tomorrow. Catalogue available here.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Art for all?

It was on leaving the Gilbert and George retrospective at Tate Modern that I was washed over with that slightly annoyed-with-myself sensation that you get when you leave an exhibition of high art feeling you have endured rather than enjoyed it. I felt rather outraged by it all. It was full of infantile humour about bodily functions that was neither intellectual nor fun.

And therein lies their artistic hypocrisy. When Gilbert and George began making art in the 60s, they fashioned a manifesto. They wanted to make "art for all". In this, I would say, certainly on the evidence of last Friday evening at the Tate, they have failed. Walking around the exhibition, a sense of foreboding heaviness hung in the air, as tends to happen when the middle classes coalesce in an art gallery with the main purpose of agreeing on something. There is a vaguely funereal air to the hushed reverence that accompanies this sort of art seen by this group of people.

What is art for all? And can high art of this type ever hope to achieve it? Beyond Damien Hirst, whose spot patterns have appeared in diluted form everywhere from Cath Kidston teacups to Paperchase stationery, of course.

Nevermind because for a few hours longer (until 11:30PM tonight) we can all have our own Gilbert & George artwork on-line for free from the Guardian website here. But if this is what Gilbert and George call "art for all" it's another joke and no funnier than their others.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Bruce on the loose

It's been almost two decades since Die Hard blasted into the action-movie stratosphere, rocketing Bruce Willis into big-screen orbit and launching a franchise that has grossed nearly $1 billion worldwide. In Live Free or Die Hard, which hits theatres in late June, Willis plays John McClane for the fourth time.

And if all this excitement is tempting you, like it did me, to pick up a copy of this month's Vanity Fair, the one with Bruce on the cover, let me spare you the £4.50 by revealing here first the two best quotes from his interview:

1. "I am for stopping world aggression. And sometimes that takes punching guys in the face. And keep punching 'em until they don't get up anymore. So the president didn't say the right thing. Who cares? Politicians misspeak and make mistakes all the fucking time. He said the war was about weapons of mass destruction. But because they didn't find all of them, it was bullshit? Not really. They know for a fact that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, chemical-gas agents. They could be buried somewhere in the desert. He could have moved them, overnight, across the border, into Syria — and we can't go into Syria."

2. "Have you heard anything useful come out of an actor's mouth lately?"

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The planet's boob tube?

English version is here. I’m posting the French for the sheer novelty value as a show of solidarity with our new friend in Paris. And there is a news angle here, believe it or not: 10 Downing Street just opened its own YouTube account, making Blair the first world leader to embrace online video.

If it weren't the twilight of Tony Blair's political career, you'd think this was just a pander-to-youth-voters stunt, the contemporary equivalent of Bill Clinton visiting Arsenio Hall's show to play the saxophone. But Blair's new YouTube video congratulating the French and their President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy instead seems to signify something more meaningful: a recognition that giving a speech anyone can access, e-mail or post on their own Web site is a powerful means of communication.

Bush will probably be next, but this sort of thing is much more useful to someone like Ahmadinejad or Chavez. It’s a freebie propaganda pipeline to the west, it’s more intimate and therefore humanizing than a televised speech, and YouTube is positively crawling with Truthers and various other useful idiots who’d be receptive to their message.

Sure, American politicians and special interest groups already use the site to great effect, but when international leaders move onto the platform, something bigger is happening. Is YouTube officially the default TV network of the planet? Blair’s channel would seem to argue the affirmative.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Join the queue

What a week this has been for England's favourite pastime: queuing. First it was 4AM queues for a £5 "I'm not a plastic bag" bag , then it was night-long queues to look like a knotted venus, and today it was wrinkles at dawn for Boots latest anti-aging 'miracle' serum. But since when did anything warrant such strange activity at such unusual hours? And is the attraction really the purchase or the desire to take part in any kind of exciting group activity? Are we all just yearning after something with an "atmosphere" nowadays that we will settle for anything?

No doubt Bill Bryson, England's new countryside champion, is brimming with social commentary on the recent hysteria. He has taken the piss out of the Brit's penchant for standing patiently in orderly queues for ages. And his fascination is not unique. Have a look at the standing in a queue blog. But this is a bank holiday weekend: time for pandemonium and the 33rd edition of City Slicker's "Week's Action, Weekend Reaction."

1) Fancy celebrating all things Liverpudlian after this week's sensational Champions League match? React by heading to a masterpiece of Scouse cinema, 'Different Voices, Still Lives' at the new swanky BFI. Southbank, SE1. Until 12 May.

2) Si hombre, it's Cinco de Mayo time again, but you can't think of a single decent Mexican joint in London? React by heading to East London's veritable casa de tequila, Green & Red, for the party feeling and cheap tacos, beers and tequila cocktails. Sombreros encouraged. Saturday. 5:30pm-1am. 51 Bethnal Green Road, E1.

3) Has the reality of 10 years under New Labour left you more jaded than jubilant? React by heading for topical spoofs of the week's news at the long established Newsrevue comedy show. Canal Cafe Theatre, W2. Fri, Sat at 9:30pm and 9pm on Sunday.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The royal treatment

John Lennon appeared naked and Clint Eastwood was bound with ropes, but Leibovitz opted to have her subject in full evening dress for this official portrait (unveiled today) marking the Queen's upcoming six-day visit to the U.S. And whilst the critics seem largely impressed, I think the photograph has all the personality of a marble bust. There must be a line of people having to wait to have their picture taken in the same chair, the same costume, perhaps one of those little cut-outs you stick your head through.

But my main gripe is that there is tradition and there is transition and the two don't have to be seen as adversarial. Just look at this picture of Queen Charlotte that hangs in the National Gallery and also portrays an elderly Queen seated at a window looking out on a chilly English landscape. Has so little changed within the monarchy that Queens are indistinguishable? Does the monarchy have to equate with melancholy?

Remember Queen Charlotte had reasons to be down. She had seen her husband, George III, lose his reason, their son seemed to offer the monarchy a poor future, and she was worried the revolution in France might spread. But why does modern Queenie have a face on?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

See That Face

Just occasionally there comes along a piece of new theatre that is so astonishingly spectacular it makes me go reeling into the night. And when the writing is a debut by a 20 year old playwright, who was 19 when she wrote it, you can't help but wonder if the Royal Court is around these days just to make you feel old. Following in the wake of 24-year-old Alexandra Wood's extraordinarily assured debut, The 11th Capital, comes the incredibly emotionally mature drama, That Face, of affluent yet dysfunctional family life from Polly Stenham.

It is a ninety minute piece full of the powerfully observed horrors that transpire when children become parents to their parents. This rare, raw tragedy is set around the double bed of an alcoholic mother and her children. Stenham writes about pain with a welcome degree of wit and warmth and, best of all, engaging compassion. Anyone familiar with life as martyr in a family will leave nothing short of powerfully affected.

Who knows where it will go next. But it is, I think, quite simply the best piece of new theatre I have ever seen. Miss Stenham is clearly one to watch. As is the entire cast. If I were a betting blogger I would head to Ladbrokes and ask for odds on Matt Smith (from the 'History Boys' and 'Party Animals'), who plays the son, winning an Oscar in the next ten years. I told him (and his deservingly proud mum) as much in the theatre bar after the show. And if you can catch a ticket while you can, I'd also wager that you'll agree with me.

That Face
Royal Court Upstairs
Until 19 May
Returns only, Phone 020 7565 5000