Culture column

All art for the masses

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I'm in trouble with some readers of this magazine. It all stems from my column about dance in the last issue. Several people have objected to me writing about dance and "bourgeois" institutions like Sadler's Wells and the Royal Opera House.

In this month's letters page one reader complains that this is "art for rich people and says absolutely nothing about the world I live in".

This is not a new debate. The argument surrounding so-called "high culture" and "popular culture" has raged for decades. The Proletkult movement that arose after the 1917 Russian Revolution proclaimed, "In the name of our future we are burning Raphael, destroying the museums and trampling on the flowers of art."

Shaolins and tap dancing

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Artistic collaborations promise so much, but so often fail.

Who could forget filmmaker Stanley Kubrick's teaming up with Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise in the turkey Eyes Wide Shut? Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder singing "Ebony and Ivory" also springs to mind.

Sutra is a different kind of collaboration altogether. It brings together Buddhist warrior monks from the Shaolin Temple in China, British sculptor Anthony Gormley, Moroccan/Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Polish composer Szymon Brzóska.

New challenges for anti-fascism

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Along with every great success come new challenges. That will be the case for Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR).

By any measure, the 2008 LMHR carnival was a great success. It celebrated London's multicultural spirit. Around 100,000 mainly young people soaked up its political message of opposing racism and the Nazi BNP. And that message got out far and wide.

Don Letts' documentary on the carnival was shown on Channel 4. Every major newspaper and magazine gave it glowing reviews, except for the New Statesman. Its journalist, Daniel Trilling, argued that the festival was too corporate.

Scenes of real America

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In their quest to see some of the best views of San Francisco, tourists dive into the lift that takes them to the top of the Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill and rush past a foyer full of beautiful murals and a wooden panelled door enclosed by frescos: Ray Boynton's Animal Force and Machine Force. It's a real shame, because behind the door lies a series of murals that line the concrete stairwell to the top.

They were financed by the Public Works of Art Project. This artistic project was set up in the 1930s Depression era. Part of US president Franklin D Roosevelt's New Deal programme, the project was one of many that gave work to unemployed artists.

Federico Garcia Lorca: the poet at five in the afternoon

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When fascist thugs murdered the 38 year old poet Federico García Lorca in Granada in August 1936, they pinned a note to his body. It denounced the writer for his politics and for his homosexuality.

But all that they achieved was that Lorca's name would still be known and celebrated two generations later. He would not die like his bullfighter friend Ignacio Sanchez Mejias, at five in the afternoon.

"A boy brought the white sheet
at five in the afternoon.
A frail of lime already prepared
at five in the afternoon.
The rest was death and death alone
at five in the afternoon."

Terence Blanchard - full interview

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Terence Blanchard's latest album, A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina), is about the abandonment of the people of New Orleans by the Bush administration. Here the composer, saxophonist and film-score writer speaks to Martin Smith about his new music, the US government and working with Spike Lee.

What made you record the album?

Requiem for Katrina: A Tale of God's Will by Terence Blanchard

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"Could we film you going into your house?" asks filmmaker Spike Lee of Mrs Blanchard.

The lady had entered that house a thousand times before, but only once would she enter her house under these circumstances. Hurricane Katrina had passed through New Orleans and had done relatively little damage, but then the levees broke, bringing death and destruction. She may have been one of the lucky ones - after all she was alive - but she knew what awaited her when she entered her home: destroyed possessions, lost heirlooms and drowned memories.

Ads and smokes

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"Mad Men was a term used in the late 1950s to describe the advertising executives of Madison Avenue, New York. They coined it."

So the scene is set for the new series created by Matthew Weiner. As you would expect from the producer and writer of The Sopranos, this is brilliant and imaginative television. The opening credits of a falling man are reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, but after the 9/11 attacks they are even more ominous, set against buildings emblazoned with colourful images of products and lifestyles the (m)ad men are trying to sell.

Big mouth...

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Once again the singer Morrissey has plenty to say about immigration and British society. In a November edition of the NME, the magazine claims that he said, "The gates of England are flooded. The country's been thrown away."

Later in the same article Morrissey boldly declares, "With the issue of immigration, it's very difficult because although I don't have anything against people from other countries, the higher the influx into England the more the British identity disappears. If you travel to Germany, it's still absolutely Germany... But travel to England and you have no idea where you are... If you walk through Knightsbridge you'll hear every accent apart from an English accent."

But is it art?

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Not a week passes without the Daily Mail or the Daily Express bitterly complaining that art has been taken over by anarchists and crackpots.

Empty rooms with flickering neon, piles of bricks, pictures (beautiful pictures as it happens) made with elephant dung, isolated figures half submerged off the Welsh coast - they exercise the middle classes to the point of apoplexy. But what is their art then? What is the artistic culture of the right?

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