Guardian Unlimited Arts

Guardian Unlimited Arts

Latest art and design news, comment and analysis from the Guardian
  1. Punks are now pensioners, tattoos are tame, and Damien Hirst is a family treat. On the eve of his new show – The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! – Grayson Perry finally embraces the fact that today’s revolt is tomorrow’s cash-in

    The title of an exhibition is usually the last thing I think of, often only after the gallery curator has nagged me to come up with something. This time I thought of the title (The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!) before I had made most of the artworks. It made me laugh, and slightly nervous laughter is the reaction most art world people have to it. Why is that? What is unsettling about an exhibition boasting about being popular?

    In 1937 the Nazis organised an exhibition called Entartete Kunst, (“Degenerate Art”). The idea was to show that modernism was a conspiracy by people who hated German decency. Visitors were encouraged to see modernist artists as Hitler saw them: as “incompetents, cheats and madmen”. The exhibition included some of the greatest German artists of the 20th century: George Grosz, Paul Klee, Kurt Schwitters and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. More than two million people visited the show, 20,000 a day. It was one of the most popular exhibitions of all time. I’m not sure what proportion of those visitors went to the exhibition to mock the art and how many went to enjoy what today would be a coach-party blockbuster, but Entartete Kunst surely did nothing to soften the art world’s suspicion of popularity.

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  2. Shaun Greenhalgh has turned his hand to everyone from Leonardo da Vinci to Lowry. He’s been to prison, but has never revealed the whole picture. Until now

    In 2010, shortly after his release from prison, Shaun Greenhalgh walked into his parents’ house in Bromley Cross to find yet another fat package waiting for him on the dresser. Unsolicited parcels arrived often. They always bore a London postmark, but never a sender’s name; they always contained an art book.

    On this occasion, Greenhalgh recognised the cover, a Renaissance-style painting of a girl, seen in profile. Snub-nosed, proud-eyed and with the hint of a double chin, she was not a handsome princess, as the book’s title, La Bella Principessa, suggested. Greenhalgh thought he knew her as an old acquaintance: Sally, a girl with whom he had worked in the late 70s at the Co-op butchery. The book, by the respected art historian Martin Kemp, argued that the painting was a lost work by Leonardo da Vinci. But Greenhalgh believed it to be one of his own: painted when he was 18 on to a piece of 16th-century vellum; he remembered buying the vellum from an antique shop close to his family’s council house in Bolton.

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  3. Its current displays aren’t just terrible. They turn the story of British art into one long joyless slog through brown and grey sludge. The proposed rehang won’t fix that

    In its 17 years of existence, Tate Britain has practically killed British art history. Drawn from the biggest collection of British art in the world, the gallery’s permanent displays – or, more accurately, incredibly impermanent displays – have achieved such a rare cocktail of superficiality, pretension, ugliness and willed ignorance that, after a couple of hours there, it is hard to feel any enthusiasm for the story of British art.

    I was at Tate Britain the other day, looking hard at the collection displays. I have no choice, as I’m writing a history of British art. I would not take what the gallery currently calls its Walk Through British Art for fun. Even when you’ve good reason to go, it’s a slog. I left with a depressing sense that British art since the Tudor age was just one big brown and grey sludge, barren of beauty, bereft of genius.

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  4. For Sgt Pepper’s 50th anniversary, the great psychedelic visionary of feminist art has created a giant mop-top mural inspired by Fixing a Hole – a song that sums up what she has spent her entire career doing

    When American artist Judy Chicago accepted an invitation earlier this year from the Tate to paint a large-scale public mural as part of Liverpool’s Sgt Pepper at 50 celebration of the Beatles’ most popular album, she was amused to hear of an exchange between two of the curators involved in the project. One of them said, “What is Judy going to do? Paint a giant vagina?” The other replied, “I hopeso.”

    Related:The Beatles: Sgt Pepper 50th Anniversary Edition review – peace, love and rock star ennui

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  5. Turner prize-winning artist says he hopes posters are self-explanatory – especially after Theresa May’s social care U-turn

    Posters bearing the words “strong and stable my arse” which were spotted across London over the weekend are the work of the artist Jeremy Deller.

    Passersby began tweeting pictures of the posters from Peckham to Soho to Kentish Town on Friday, but the question was: who was behind them?

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  6. The renowned feminist artist celebrates 50 years of Sgt Pepper’s, Venice is brought to life and a collection of macabre Georgian sculptures take over Sir John Soane’s Museum

    David Octavius Hill was already well established as a Scottish painter when he met the chemist Robert Adamson in Edinburgh in 1843. Adamson had started experimenting with the new science of photography and he and Hill started using the camera to make serious portraits. They started with Edinburgh dignitaries but soon went on to photograph the fishing community of Newhaven. Their haunting images are the first masterpieces of social reportage.
    Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, 27 May to 1 October

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  7. From Uri Geller, who bent the shop’s only spoon, to the Beatles, Arnie and Joan Collins, a small London shop near the US embassy has been taking passport snaps for the famous since 1953

    In a two-room, white-walled basement off Oxford Street in central London, behind the Dyson showroom, is a tiny portrait gallery, and if Philip Sharkey has a few minutes he will show you around.

    “That’s Alec Guinness,” he says, pointing at a miniature print of the steely-eyed actor. “That’s Peter O’ TooleLena Horne. All four Beatles. Mia Farrow. Woody Allen is on a separate wall. Arnold Schwarzenegger. That was for his green card, in 1977.”

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  8. On the eve of Sgt Pepper’s half-century, the pop artist shares stories of his classic album sleeve, snubbing Warhol and why he hasn’t paid a bill in Mr Chow for 50 years

    I meet Sir Peter Blake in Mr Chow, the institution of a Chinese restaurant opposite One Hyde Park, where flats sell for £75m. Blake knew the restaurant’s eponymous owner in leaner times. He first met Michael Chow, he explains as we sit down, when the restaurateur was living on a camp bed in the garage of the painter Victor Pasmore by the Thames at Chiswick. Blake and his friend Richard Lin went to supper in the garage, a glorious meal that Chow cooked on a single paraffin burner on the dirt floor. Both Lin and Chow were artists and political refugees from Mao’s China, where Michael’s father had been a leading performer in the Peking Opera. Ten years after that meal, in 1967, Blake was a guest of honour at the opening of this restaurant; Chow later opened in Beverly Hills and New York.

    To decorate the restaurant back then, Chow invited his artist friends to donate paintings for the walls in exchange for food. Blake was then at the height of his fame as a pop artist in the year of Sgt Pepper; among other things he made a portrait of Chow as part of his “wrestlers series” (Frisco and Lorenzo Wong and Wildman Mr Chow). The deal proved a good one on both sides. Blake’s paintings have only increased in value, and his tab has never run out. (The same cannot be said for another, nameless, artist. “He ate his share in two weeks,” Blake says. “He brought 20 people a night and drank the best champagne and that was that. With me, it has gone on for ever.”)

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  9. Tate Modern, London
    Fight your way through the spindly hordes at this huge, overcrowded Giacometti show and you’ll find a tender, protean artist who is still uniquely strange

    There is a figure no bigger than a pin halfway through this colossal retrospective. It emerges from a plinth the size of a frugal chunk of cheddar. You could pocket the whole object without difficulty; indeed Giacometti (1901-66) once returned from his native Switzerland to Paris with all the sculptures he had made through the second world war neatly contained in six matchboxes. No matter how tall or broad he wanted them to be, the artist said, each figure just kept getting smaller and smaller.

    The size and shape of Giacometti’s sculptures is both intensely famous and surpassingly strange. That is the lesson of this show. Poorly lit, tactlessly displayed and about as overcrowded as a Giacometti show never should be – 250 works, densely contextualised with drawings, memorabilia and even ornamental floor lamps – it nonetheless gives a sense of the artist in all his prodigious variety, from the pinheads to the striding giants, the thin men to the rows of tapering women, rigid but helpless on their stands. Uniquely alone, and yet palpably connected, they amount to a new race of sculpture.

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  10. When his daughter spotted some colourful matchbooks at a car boot sale in France, artist Aaron Kasmin was instantly enamoured. Created in America between the 30s and 60s, “feature matchbooks” were used to advertise alcohol and other products in the post-prohibition era. “They’re small, ephemeral masterpieces, and they’re just amazingly inventive,” says Kasmin. “To me they sum up reading Raymond Chandler and watching films with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall – a sort of cool, sophisticated suaveness.” Kasmin has collected about 500 of these matchbooks, and has reproduced the designs in a series of drawings made with carbothello pencils, which will be exhibited at Sims Reed Gallery, London SW1, from Wednesday.

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