London Culture Round Up

A lot’s been going on in London this winter. New sights and sounds, and new ways to explore cultural heritage.

Cats

The plot is confusing and objective meaning is allusive but it is essentially about the initiation rites of the ancient cult of Isis. Old Deuteronomy is the high priestess of an Egyptian temple (Art Deco with cat statuettes) in London.  The cats compete for the rights to be  reborn in the “Heavyside Layer”: the realm of the sun god Horus. Spoiler alert: Grizabella, a fallen women from a Victorian melodrama, receives the accolade and is carried off to her redemption. This might allude to the use of Isis within the Latin poetic tradition and especially the figure of Delia within Tibullus.

A fascinating introduction to a complex area of study, demonstrating the abiding influence of Greco-Roman Egyptian ideas within the modern period.

There’s been mixed reviews for this CGI heavy film based on Lord Lloyd Weber’s musical based on TS Eliot’s whimsical poetry, but it’s actually quite good. One criticism, the geography of London is all over the place. At one point the cats are behind the Russel Hotel and at other points there are behind Whole Foods Piccadilly. It’s also a shame the Carreras Cigarette factory in Camden was not used as a setting.

★★★★★

Little Women

A possibly even more confusing plot, this nineteenth century novel has been rewritten for the attention economy. The jumping timeframe mirrors the distractions of contemporary digital life. Lacking a linear narrative, the film still builds to a cumulative happy ending which, if a little too nineteenth century, feels rewarding. It has a light touch on the gender and racial politics of then and now. The hero of the piece is Aunt March, played by Dame Meryl Streep.

☆★★★★

Leonardo Da Vinci Experience

The National Gallery have gone all out, for the 500th anniverary of the death of Leonardo. There are actually very few paintings of Leonardo in the world and only one in Britain. This exhibition uses digital technology in an imaginative way to explore that one painting, a second version of the Virgin of the Rocks. Visitors can explore behind the scenes restoration work, the impact of light and shadow on the work, and the painting in the original setting (recreated by light projections).

The digital technology was great, but it lacked a strong narrative. Sadly the show is probably not worth the £20 ticket fee. A much better show, doing something similar, was the free Leonardo exhibition at the Peltz Gallery (now closed). What could have made it better? Possibly making it more of an immersive experience. Several galleries are exploring open restoration galleries so that viewers can watch experts at work. Immersive drama using Virtual Reality is also a new area, that museum curators could explore to mutual profits for institutions, sponsors and visitors alike.

☆★★★★

Into the Night

Nightlife was central to the early twentieth century avant garde, according to this exhibition by the curators at the Barbican. Items and full size diaramas recreate the atmosphere of seminal places such as L’Aubette and Cabaret Fledermaus. Every Thursday to Saturday night the space “comes to life” as drinks and jazz is played. Very bougy.

Yet it was what wasn’t said that was most intriguing. Drink and drugs have ruined more minds than they have influenced. The chronology jumps back and forth, to fit the gallery space. Although the Barbican have tried to explore more global spaces, the narrative flow makes it feel like European developments were taken up across the world in a one way transmission of ideas.

A better show might have explored the less well known places in Mexico, Iran and Nigeria. An exhibition focused on the Nigerian Mbari clubs would be welcomed.

☆★★★★

Pre-Raphaelite Sisters

A fascinating premise that failed to deliver. It’s not so much that the women are unknown – Lizzie Siddel, Fanny Cornforth and Christina Rosetti are still household names (in some homes) – but that they are depicted in the “Official Histories” as only playing supporting roles as muses, lovers and supporters. The fact that many of the more impressive items on display are paintings by the men doesn’t help bring these women out of their glare. The complexities are better examined through more rigourous means: the accompanying book is worth reading.

The highlight towards the end of the show was the section exploring the De Morgans. Evelyn and William De Morgan were a well matched artistic couple. She painted and he designed ceramics. One portrait by Evelyn, shows her husband in the guise adopted by female models in the hands of the other (male) paintings. They deserve their own more comprehensive show.

☆★★★★