Review

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The Independent Culture
Pirouetting on gold platform stilettoes, weightless in blood-red brocade, tossing her spectacular blonde locks and laughing like a drain, she looked every inch the Cleopatra of London bohemia. She was Jibby Beane, "the Art Scene Queen", subject of last night's Women at Play (C4), and, in her fifties, a living remonstration to chintzy maturity everywhere. There have always been such rebels, of course. Even Virginia Woolf was not just, as you may have been led to believe by reading her novels, the doyenne of Dullsville - she was also the woman who wrote: "The older one grows, the more one likes indecency." Ms Beane's explanation of her sudden transformation from suburban wife to metropolitan hedonist ran thus: "You only have one life, there's no rehearsal." One of the benefits of getting older, presumably, is the realisation that cliches such as that one enable you to buy into a stock of incontrovertible truth without appearing sententious. Jibby reeled the line off with a knowing airiness, but she sure went on to give it value for money.

Having left her husband back in the faubourgs, Beane set up in a beautiful Bayswater flat with twentysomething artist Jonathan Goslan. It is from here that the two run an art gallery to encourage new talent. "It's the new young artists that excite me... they must be given hope!" gushes Jibby, sweetly. She is so busy, in fact, in her proselytising mission that she spent the first five minutes of the film doing business on the telephone, managing to order the crew, with faultless policy, into the kitchen, where they could encaffeinate themselves. The camera focused morosely on the boiling kettle, and then on a tin whose label read, inscrutably, "Art Coffee". Was this coffee, by virtue of being exhibited thus, afforded a Warholian transubstantiation into the status of art-object? Or was it, by dint of some alchemy, able to effect an intravenous hit of artistry into the brave imbiber? One could easily imagine, on the latter interpretation, that it's all Beane drinks - apart from Champagne, darling.

Jibby doesn't wear the bottoms of her trousers rolled. She doesn't have to, because her black PVC numbers are always short enough to show off her extraordinary collection of Vivienne Westwood shoes. Pink crocodile shoes, brown crocodile shoes - "Pink strappy shoes, look!" After rooting through her shoe cupboard for ages, Beane decided: "I believe that everyone should have these shoes." Tottering around in various designer outfits - a ruched white number with an eye-popping split up the right thigh, a rather less well-advised off-the-shoulder fuschia creation - Jibby could say the most insensitive or nonsensical things, but her terrific joie de vivre and incessant giggling were easily enough to storm any viewer's citadel of grumpiness. She flew to Milan for a day to appear in a fashion show, and exhibited splendid, Ray-Ban'd insouciance by lighting up yet another Superking on the non- smoking airport concourse. "Let them arrest me, darling!" They didn't dare try.

For all that Jibby's gorgeous example is an inspiration to those fearful of the tyrannies of chronology, the film was most interesting when it caught a whiff of the desperation of the professional aesthete. That is to say: if you are determined to find beauty in everything, you are bound to look a bit silly sometimes. Various intellectually paper-thin conceptual artefacts, and a perfectly ordinary stained-glass window, were eulogised as being "So poetic!", to the extent that you wondered what sort of encomium Beane had in reserve, should she ever encounter some poetry.

In fact, it was Jonathan, her wry Scottish toy-boy, who broke the wearing spell of incessant overpraise at an art-college degree show. Standing awkwardly in front of a wall-mounted glass box, whose contents we were not privileged to see, he finally let rip with exasperation: "It's a public health hazard, for goodness' sake." Only at one other point in the film was there a symbolic hint at the fact that some things really are better than others. The screen filled with a large canvas which resembled a monstrous red-and-purple iris: the bloodshot, blinded eye of discernment.

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