qatsi (qatsi) wrote,
qatsi
qatsi

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Heroes and Villains

My heart sank somewhat as I switched on the radio this morning to hear the BBC's latest "scoop" about the security services current assessment of the likelihood of Al-Qaeda activity in the UK, as I had half-planned a trip to London. All week I have been trying to get more detail on Bush's London visit, not for the purposes of terrorism, but so that I can avoid being in the same place as him at the same time.

Fortunately, other peoples' hearts must have sunk further, as I thought central London was quiet for mid-November, and I wasn't dispatched by a suicide bomber, harangued by anti-War/anti-Bush protestors, nor stopped-and-searched by PC Plod.

The main reason for the trip was to take a look at the National Portrait Gallery, and particularly the Scarfe "Heroes and Villains" caricatures on display. The selection on display was small - no more than a dozen pieces - but free and worthwhile. I find Scarfe's work, like that of most cartoonists, something of a curate's egg: I suppose it is difficult to be consistent when the demand for topicalia has to be satisfied on a daily basis. These works are good, perhaps because there has been more time for him to think them out, and there is further material (along with "straight" portraits) in the accompanying book for £20. Visually, I think either Oswald Moseley or Lady Thatcher worked best for me (both in a King Rat way); but the two pieces of the Beckhams definitely also merit close inspection.

I also took the time to wander round the 18th-century and contemporary sections of the main gallery. I particularly liked the arrangement of busts of Mr Pitt and Mr Fox at either side of the doorway to one of the rooms. Sadly these pieces were both rather dull (and therefore probably more accurate) by comparison with the caricatures of the same subjects by Gillray and contemporaries, though one can see the source material for inspiration. It's remarkable how much the actors in the film of The Madness of King George were made to look like the Gillray caricatures.

The post-1990 section is an odd mix. Some good pieces (portraits of Alan Bennet and Jonathan Miller spring to mind), whilst others were ghastly (Germaine Greer) or just plain eclectic (Gilbert and George - self-portrait, of course).

So, as the Romans say, veni, vidi, parvum tabernandum feci.
Tags: exhibitions
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