Art / Exhibitions

Magnum Contact Sheets Thames and Hudson

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One of the starting points for this publication of the Magnum photo-collective's impressive collection of contact sheets and the accompanying exhibition is that this once intrinsic part of photographic work has now been "rendered obsolete by digital photography". However, the book shows examples of contact sheets produced as recently as 2010.

Gerhard Richter: Panorama

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There is a major retrospective exhibition of Gerhard Richter's work now showing at the Tate Modern gallery in London. Richter's artworks pose difficult questions and are stimulating, disturbing and beautiful. They also, I think, help us frame our modern experience in surprising ways.

There is a lot of hype about Richter and his art. Some critics regard him as the greatest living painter and his artworks sell for millions at auction. There is scant regard for historical context in the Tate's presentation. Richter himself says of his paintings, "I don't even like showing them any more. The press love them. Dreadful!" However, don't let this put you off.

Private Eye: the First 50 Years

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An exhibition celebrating 50 years of Private Eye has just opened at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Te original artwork for over 120 of their funniest cartoons - by artists such as Gerald Scarfe, Ralph Steadman, Wille Rushton, Barry Fantoni, and Michael Heath - is on show alongside a life-sized cutout of Tony Blair, a stuffed dog, a flying Robert Maxwell and a scattering of inflatable bananas once sold to fundraise for one of the many libel lawsuits issued against the Eye.

Since its first publication in 1961, the Eye has lambasted and lampooned a variety of public figures, most notably billionaire businessman James Goldsmith and the newspaper magnate and non-swimmer Robert Maxwell. Goldsmith issued more than 100 writs against the Eye in 1976 alone.

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.

Jean Genet: Act One and Act Two

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Jean Genet's life was very different to that of most writers. Abandoned as a baby, he spent his teenage years in a reformatory, became a thief and a gay prostitute and was repeatedly imprisoned. In jail he began to write. Thanks to his literary contacts his masturbation fantasies eventually became bestsellers.

This exhibition celebrates Genet as a playwright and political activist. Alongside exhibits relating to Genet's life and work are newer works inspired by themes developed by Genet.

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.

Out of this World

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In his 1961 science fiction classic Solaris, the Russian author Stanislaw Lem wrote, "We have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors." This fascinating exhibition at the British Library shows us how science - or speculative - fiction has imagined other worlds, terrifying creatures and utopian futures while simultaneously exploring political and social questions very relevant to our own society.

30 Years of Steve Bell

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Nicholas Garland writes in the exhibition catalogue that accompanies this exhibition that "Steve Bell is the greatest political cartoonist of the day". I would also suggest that he is perhaps one of the most important artists of his generation.

I don't mean this in the narrow sense that his drawings and mark making are those of an artist and craftsman of the highest quality who has, over the years, honed his considerable artistic ability to produce work of the finest quality.

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.

Joan Miro: A Blow Between the Eyes

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"To me rich and vigorous material seems necessary to give the spectator a blow between the eyes at first sight which must hit him before other thoughts can intervene. In this way poetry expressed visually speaks its own language" (Joan Miro)

Strange creatures floating in timeless space; circles and triangles and eyes in bright colours linked by fragile lines. That is the familiar Miro, childlike perhaps, magical, and free. Though he knew Picasso, identified as a surrealist and was admired by them, the world of Joan Miro's imagination escaped schools or movements.

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