ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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The Independent Culture
UNHAPPY tidings from the Mall. The Institute of Contemporary Arts, the most forward- thinking of London's arts centres, is so strapped for cash that it has resolved to sell the only work of art it possesses - a Picasso.

This is no ordinary Picasso. It's a painting of a couple, crayon on a chunk of lath and plaster measuring 41 2 ft by 71 2 . Picasso drew it on the wall of a house in Stepney, which he borrowed while he was over here to mount an exhibition at the ICA in the Fifties. (Well, it was better than rent.) When the owner of the house, a Professor J D Bernal, died, in 1969, he bequeathed the wall to the ICA. For many years it sat in the foyer, behind the box-office, but lately it has been stored away out of sight, and its condition, I understand, has not improved.

The ICA has had an overdraft for most of the time it has owned the painting. The deficit has now reached pounds 500,000 and the Arts Council has ordered the ICA to come up with a strategy for reducing it. So the council of the ICA has decided to sell off the family silver. 'One does feel a bit sad,' says the director, Mik Flood. 'But the ICA has no permanent collection and it was actually intended not to by the founders, Roland Penrose and Herbert Read. Read said we should be a playground for adults, not part of the museum culture.' Flood hopes a public collection will buy it, 'so it will be seen. We've never found the right place to put it'.

The piece has not been valued recently and won't be until it has gone for restoration. Flood declines to speculate about what it might fetch. My sources in the art market tell me it would be of the order of pounds 20-30,000. It doesn't seem much of a dent in the deficit, but maybe the ICA reasons that the sale will raise more money indirectly, in terms of publicity for its plight.

HE DRANK too much, took too many drugs, played with guns, divorced his wife, wrecked hotel rooms, and wound up dead in the back of a car at 29. Such is the pitiful story of Hank Williams, the greatest country singer of all. Or is it? Michael Peterson of Lerwick has uncovered startling new evidence which casts doubt on the traditional view. As my photos conclusively prove, the Drifting Cowboy did not die on that cold January night in 1953, but escaped to Britain, where he was taken in by a leading family of horse-owners. In his new guise, I am happy to report, Hank (or His Royal Highness, as he now likes to be called) has managed to kick the drugs and bring the drinking under control, though the price he has had to pay is that the songs have rather dried up, and question marks remain over his marital status and his attitude to firearms.

BY GENERAL consent, it was hard to argue with the Oscars. There were mutterings chez Hughes about Emma Thompson's outfit (an interesting shade of dead trout), but otherwise the only real dissent I've come across since Monday night has been over Best Supporting Actor, which went to Tommy Lee Jones for The Fugitive instead of Ralph Fiennes for Schindler's List. Clearly Schindler will be remembered long after The Fugitive has slipped the collective memory. But Hollywood is about entertainment, and if its lighter products are to be in there competing with the heavyweights, they must do so on a level field. Tommy Lee's performance was as good as a supporting turn can be: witty, magnetic, and effortlessly commanding. It was a shock to see him in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with the top of his head shaved, looking uncannily like Ian McKellen playing John Profumo in Scandal, but it wasn't a shock to see him win.

His victory is the culmination of a growing trend in Hollywood: if you want to get ahead, get a Lee in your name (whichever way you spell it). Jennifer Jason Leigh is regularly hailed as the next great character actress. Brandon Lee is heading for the posthumous stardom enjoyed by his father, Bruce. Sheryl Lee is about to star in Backbeat, and already getting good reviews. Jamie Lee Curtis, after a few fallow years, has bounced back with the lead in a forthcoming thriller called Mother's Boys. Her mother, Janet Leigh, has a secure place in the hall of fame. So does her great-aunt, Vivien.

Clint Eastwood doesn't have a Lee in his name, but he does have a finger firmly on Hollywood's pulse. So his latest film, A Perfect World, was written by John Lee Hancock and the cast included Lucy Lee Flippin, as the nice woman who has to dance with Kevin Costner. Not much has been heard recently of Lee Majors or the late Lee Marvin, but the way things are going, their day will doubtless dawn again.

(Photographs omitted)