Despite attempts by the centre-left to rebrand British values towards those held by what would eventually be described as the metropolitan elite, part of Britain yearned for old certainties, while a number of men relished the clear-cut masculinity displayed in nostalgia for the Second World War, and novels about the SAS (one wonders if that was true for some women, too).
As the varied and sometimes disturbing contents of this selection hints, there was more to Klee’s work than met the eye. He didn’t simply want to be some kind of amusing illustrator. Rather, he envisaged his work to be a reflection of transcendence and we can see him almost striving to get beyond the outward and visible to the inward —the essence of existence — in his ‘Static-Dynamic Gradation’ (1923) and ‘Steps’ (1929).
Perhaps the only lesson we can draw from the differing ideals summoned-up in these portraits - and the conflict which would destroy or change those ideals - is that neither presumption nor despair have a place in historical expectation. Human beings - either singly or socially - cannot exist without beliefs, and hopes for their fulfilment, but as to their outcomes; at the risk of suggesting a cliché, they must expect only the unexpected. But then, it is the best clichés that are true - usually.
Looking at what’s on offer here, it’s easy to side with those who felt that, at the Momart fire - when, in 2004, a number of famous YBA works were destroyed by a conflagration whilst in storage - those artists got what they deserved for producing meretricious, attention-seeking work with which they could fool the public and make a lot of money whilst doing so. But the option of a simplistic put-down - attractive though it may be - is to be resisted in favour of a deeper analysis
One thing, probably not intended by Webb, stands out from examining what’s on offer: the way in which fashion had, by the eighties, succumbed to what some might see as Modernism’s two defining principles; ‘sod the public’, and ‘will this go down well with my peers?’.
Bowie owed his fame, arguably, more to his visual style than his music. His ﬁrst job after leaving school was working in advertising and, while it’s easy to snipe at the morals and workings of that profession, it’s one which requires mental and visual skills for its practitioners. Bowie built on that early experience.
Stewart mentions how the Conservative Philosophy Group, involving Cambridge academics such as Roger Scruton, John Casey, Maurice Cowling and Edward Norman, helped to build a bridge between High Tories and classical liberal economists. But there is no discussion about why the conservatives as a whole failed even to try to change the intellectual as well as the economic culture of Britain, or indeed, if they saw any need for a hearts-and-minds campaign on this front.
It is, perhaps, ironic that that Man Ray — who participated in this movement which set out to challenge received social attitudes - could also produce photographs which are eye-catching, yet conventional. Perhaps he deliberately split his work into the customary and the disturbing, maintaining this juxtaposition of radically different things in a Surrealist spirit
In considering Westbourne Grove, he writes of its ‘empty launderettes, iffy supermarkets, sparsely furnished letting agencies, unreconstructed Indian restaurants, beer halls, booths offering rock-bottom price international phone calls, money exchanges, cheap carpet shops and heavily defended mini cab offices.’ With a complete lack of socio-babble we’re straight back into the Notting Hill of Colin Maclnnes’s early yoof novel Absolute Beginners, or the film Performance, as if the superficial sleekness of Cameronian gentrification had never existed.
Haidt wants his readers to understand - in the sense of comprehend (rather than empathise with) - moral, social and political views that differ from theirs. But this aspiration has a wider application than the field of American politics, and stating it is the main value of the book. There can be no effective debate without comprehending an opponent’s point of view.
At the heart of metal-work lies skilled craft, with its need to mentally master and physically apply scientiﬁc knowledge - along with the unavoidable effort this entails. in other words, technical education is involved here and this is something which has, arguably, been neglected by educationalists since the end of the Second World War.
So far, so conventional — we might think. An injustice waiting to be resolved, a detective with a backstory of demons, all par for the conventional crime novel course. But this is where we make a classic detection error — leaping to judgement before all the evidence is gathered. In unfolding the story, Unsworth doesn’t simply deal with the issue of a possible wrong that needs righting. She leads us — with the aid of ﬂashbacks to the time of the killing - on a journey into the underbelly of small-town life.
23 writers tell us why public libraries matter. They do so against a background of library cuts (and dumbed-down education - more of this later). And they not only make out a good case for libraries but also for reading itself — a wise move, given the dislike expressed in some quarters about ‘privileging’ the book over other sources of information.
Freud’s grandfather, Sigmund, attempted to examine and explain the workings of the human mind and helped to expand our understanding of them, including their more disturbing aspects. In a sense, his grandson followed in his footsteps. But instead of using the consulting room and couch, the younger Freud employed the studio and the paintbrush.
‘Three Trees near Thixendale, Summer 2007’, shows bulging trees leaping out towards us like boxers’ gloved fists punching towards their opponents, while ‘Hawthorn Blossom near Rudston, 2000’, shows these vast shrubs lining the approach to an arch, giving it an air of mystery.
The link between science, manufacturing, and the production and development of the day-to-day technology we take for granted, and whose loss we would note very quickly, is not widely recognised. Conran, with his reputation for artistic and profitable practicality as his calling-card, has a vital role in combating two centuries of neglect.
What they did share was a love of representational work and, one suspects, a bloody-minded determination to plough their artistic furrows however unfashionable - or unsettling - they might be. The unique nature of the contributions of each individual artist should be rigorously respected.
Hakim’s book becomes more problematic when, building on this fieldwork, she argues that the use of erotic capital by women will not only change their role but also help them get a better deal in both public and private life, so revolutionising power structures as well as big business, the sex industry, government and… well, almost everything.
Degas was aware of - and took an interest in – the scientific study of the human body which was in progress during his lifetime. The works in this exhibition show Degas’ attempts to try and capture the workings of the skin and bone which are the raw material of human movement.
The word ‘Gods’ in the exhibition’s title is - possibly - the giveaway clue here. Although golden-era Hollywood was part of mass entertainment, its stars benefitted from working within an era when established hierarchies - church, state, parents, judiciary, politicians, academics - still dominated Western thought and behaviour: their power was taken for granted. Stars of stage and screen shared in this stratified system of authority: hence the almost ethereal glamour that the photographs here show.
This exhibition reminds us that international involvement and influence in Afghanistan are nothing new. Like Belgium and Poland it has - because of its geographical location - found itself an unwilling cockpit in world affairs, the fate of countries when caught between competing power blocks. It also shows that cross-border trade is a centuries-old activity: it helped to bring about the ideas and art which these exhibits exemplify.
This celebration of a long-standing Hungarian hunger for art is not simply a straightforward demonstration of artists’ skills, refreshing though that is: it is an artistic running commentary, as it were, on the intellectual and political ferment that Europe underwent from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century.
Any work that doesn’t have a Romantic artist forcing it out of his tortured consciousness is seen as somehow invalid. But whilst Pop Art may have been loaded with varying degrees of well-meant pretentious theory by academics, at heart it is straightforward representational art which gives people something which they understand: and that is what they want to see.
As with any religious, political or social movement, the question arises: how many wanted to effect some form of radical transformation, how many wanted what they could get out of it for themselves, and how many wanted a bit of both?
Can Willetts afford himself the luxury of reticence? This book is not just about a supposed inter-generational conflict. It’s really about the state of the nation. This topic should not invite despair, but nor should it simply breed good - but insubstantial – intentions.
Is Thorne correct when he writes of words that ‘make us English’? Do words - by themselves - make anybody anything? Words and meanings feed off each other in a complicated, unchoreographed dance of usage and association. As he shows with wicked itself, a word can undergo ‘ironic reversal’ whereby it changes its meaning.
The construction of the Shell Building on the South Bank of the Thames, near Waterloo, caught Auerbach’s imagination. ‘Shell Building Site from the Thames’ (1959) shows a cable being lowered by a crane into the deep excavation that was carried out for this building. As the cable drops against a background of bright, light clay it’s difficult to stave off an attack of vertigo.
One wishes the Civitas team well: it makes a compelling case. But it has a mountain to climb in attempting to rejuvenate - or, rather, resurrect - British manufacturing policy. Effecting change will not be easy, especially when it comes to the determined slaying of disparate sacred cows like equality legislation, laissez-faire, protectionism, and the all-must-have- prizes attitude which results in education lacking intellectual rigour
The exhibition gives us a sense of the calm before the storm which would be unleashed in the summer of 1940. But that’s not quite enough. It’s easy now - with hindsight - to look critically at the politics of appeasement which preceded the events commemorated by this exhibition, and the failure of politicians to stop Hitler. But we must remember that their actions were overshadowed by memories of the Somme.
A backward-glancing Joe Orton shows the playwright exhibiting a defiance that looks camp but – as we know from his plays and diary – he was anything but wimpish. Painter Francis Bacon looks drunk and weepily belligerent, but you sense that he’s ready for another struggle at the easel depicting the red meat of human existence before heading-off to the Colony Room.
The exhibition takes us up to 1800 and no further. This is a pity, for it gives the impression that Baroque went out of use, and some might think that it also conveys the puritanical subtext that it was a soft, Southern thing, its decadence dooming it to decay and demise. This is wrong.
Due to its location within a notable area of Jewish immigration the library was once known as the ‘University of the Ghetto’. With a newer immigrant community today facing its own challenges - arguably both from within and without its ranks - the symbolism of a combined library and Gallery would be highly potent.
The way the story of the Momart fire of 2004 is related with a bare minimum of commentary leads us to ask whether Muir considers the work of the YBAs to be so self-evidently good that it needs no defence: or is its commercial success justification enough without any reference to aesthetics?
Another cause of decline may have been the demise of the attitudes symbolised by the BBC’s drinking culture: whilst in itself alcohol consumption isn’t necessarily conducive to producing good art, it indicates a pleasure-accepting, risk-taking, happy-go-lucky attitude which usually is.
Maybe femmes will not only lead a leather-booted charge against the parochial stone walls of the LGBT ghetto but - by doing so - also give an example of stiflingly conformist constraints being shattered, so giving encouragement to people who wish to rip-up taboos in other, wider, public debates
Constantinople was almost destined by its geography and history to be the seat of a great empire. And that was - arguably - a contributory factor in its undoing: everyone wanted a share of the political and economic action inherent in the city.
For Lewis, as for many others, the war had rendered the 1914 socio-political work order irrelevant; it was the left like the ‘old battalion’ of the wartime soldiers’ song ‘hanging on the old barbed wire’. For Lewis, as for many others, the political future was to be found on the right with some form of authortarianism.
In recent films Bond’s patronising treatment of women has been changed, whilst Dame Judi Dench has appeared as a formidable female ‘M’, but these changes have probably been done with an eye more on the cultural critics than on the box office – few filmgoers, one imagines, view Bond films as consciousness-raising exercises.
This book is written by two authors who are leading figures in their fields. Sir Terence Conran, combining practicality with attractiveness, gave the fruits of his imagination and acumen to the Britain that was just emerging from the rigours of post-war austerity, and has gone on to being a leading designer, retailer and restaurateur.
The heat of the sex war has contributed books that have added worthwhile fuel to its fiery controversies. It’s also helped to warm-up a few potboilers. What does this offering on the subject give us – solid food or warmed over scraps from other people’s tables?
Most rock-based cultural commentary is produced by writers who seem never to have experienced the hedonistic pleasure of dressing up, hitting the dance floor or going with the flow. With a possible rise in popularity of noir crime writing, however, the rock novel may provide some backstage passes that give access to all areas.
This book is not the beginning of the end of sterotyping the Seventies, and the decade will, no doubt, still be the subject of over-simplification. But it does provide a useful introduction to its cultural wares, and makes us realise that the Seventies deserve serious re-evaluation.
Few commentators have been prepared to dissent from the prevailing view of the Sixties as a period of exciting change. But Sandbrook revises our opinions about what many still venerate as a cherished myth. Outside the metropolis - or, rather, Chelsea, Mayfair and the West End - how far did Britain swing?
On goes the false stubble and out steps our intrepid heroine - as Ned - into the male world. But she seems unwilling to make a firm decision about whether gender has grey areas or is either starkly pink or blue. The suspicion comes to mind that she has to maintain a certain bipolarity between the sexes in order to give the book its selling-point.
Where Sandbrook really makes his mark is in drily debunking some standard myths that have been propagated about the sixties. The concept of ‘suburban blues’ - a sense of alienation supposedly suffered by suburb dwellers - was a snobbish myth: most dwellers in the ‘burbs’ were happy with their lot
In this novel, Ms Birch tells the story of a Northern working class family, a tale that stretches from just after the First World War onwards over three generations. In choosing this theme, she immediately sets herself a problem and raises a question in her reader’s mind.