Noel Halifax

Lucian Freud 1922-2011

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In art, portraits have had a poor time of it since the Second World War. Many came to think of portraiture as at best a minor form of art, inferior to the grander modernist traditions - such as minimalism, conceptual or action art - that ask the really important questions.

When you look at the art usually done under this label, the assessment seems accurate. After all, portraits are often largely painted to flatter the sitter, or at best to make observations about modern life and social attitudes. The latter kind would include artists like David Hockney or the (to my mind awful) portraits of the Glasgow Brutalist school.

Magritte: The Pleasure Principle

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This summer Tate Liverpool plays host to a major exhibition of René Magritte, with over 100 paintings, some from private collections and many never seen before in Britain.

Magritte worked in both the commercial field and "high art", producing some of the most recognised images in the world. Today they are often recycled by advertisers and his work has become a means by which the revolutionary Surrealist movement was tamed and co-opted by capitalism. After shocking the art world - including the official Surrealist movement - his work was used to sell chocolate and beer.

Don't blame religion

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Where do homophobia and transphobia come from? Many people point to religion as the root cause. But the belief that religion is to blame is a reworking of an old argument first fought out in the 1840s.

Then as now there was an argument about where awful ideas come from and how we can change them. It was not Richard Dawkins who first said that "religion is the root of all evil" but the philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach. It was against Feuerbach's ideas that Marx and Engels first formulated their ideas of historical materialism.

Women War Artists

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This exhibition looks at the work of women artists from the First World War to the war in Bosnia. Included are some of the Imperial War Museum's most outstanding art, both commissioned work such as "Ruby Loftus" by Laura Knight (shown above) and women artists responding to war.

It is surprising how the official art of the Second World War in Britain is so like that of Russian Socialist Realism of the same time or for that matter the official art of Nazi Germany. All typically depict idealised workers pulling together for the nation.

The exhibition features other official artists such as Anna Airey and Linda Kitson, the official war artists of the Falkland War, but also covers women artists response to war as eyewitnesses, participants and commentators.

Short reports

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Cash, bigots and beagling


Show me the money

Governments around the world making swingeing cuts, claiming they are chronically short of cash.

But oddly enough many large corporations are awash with money. As reported in the Financial Times last month, cash currently represents the biggest proportion of assets in the US for over 50 years. As the world economy stalls US corporations are sitting on some $2 trillion - that's about the same as the entire value of the British economy.


Don't cut the dressage!

Artocracy in Tunisia

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Artocracy is an international art project led by the French artist JR and his collaborators.

Previously JR has worked in Brazil in the favelas and on the Wall between Palestine and Israel. His next stop is said to be Egypt.

In Tunisia he worked with six local photographers. The aim is to provoke discussion with huge portraits of ordinary people in the ruins of government buildings destroyed in the revolution. Art is used to show how the world has been turned upside down or inside out, taking it out of the studio and onto the streets and areas of social conflict.

Cameron's nasty turn

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As part of the run-up to the local elections, David Cameron made a particularly nasty speech about immigration

Cameron's speech served a number of purposes. It reassured the Tory party's right wing and drew a dividing line with the Liberal Democrats - which also gave Nick Clegg something he could object to and so help to appease his dwindling voters. It also played the race card just as the cuts are really starting to bite and face growing opposition.

Cameron spent a considerable amount of time "de-toxifying" the Tory brand, trying to turn the image of the "nasty" party into one of caring conservatives. The re-toxification of the Tories is proceeding rapidly.

Pioneers of the Downtown Scene, New York 1970s

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The Barbican, London
until 22 May



The curators of this exhibition have tried to reconstruct the multimedia art scene of downtown Manhattan in the 1970s, when it became known as SoHo (south of Houston). Before it became trendy it was one of the cheapest run-down parts of town.

It was a place of old empty workshops and factories, mostly falling down, in an area which was not classified as residential. It was an area for work, but the work had long moved out.

Edward Carpenter - A Life of Liberty and Love

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Sheila Rowbotham, Verso, £25

Edward Carpenter's active political life spans the 1880s through to the 1920s and during that time he knew and influenced almost everyone on the radical left and beyond.

He was the ultimate polymath and radical, writing on all aspects of society, and can be said to have invented or refigured for the 20th century what we now would call lifestyle politics. He wrote about gay love ("the dear love of comrades") at a time when the term homosexual was being defined and during the great moral panic and homophobic persecution of the late 19th century.

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