The Weasel

A single taste of this ichthyological monstrosity revealed it was not in the first flush of youth
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
Now that London has filched New York's crown as the effervescent capital of the art world, exemplified by the controversial "Sensation" show of Young British Artists at the Royal Academy, it seems likely that we will follow the example of sophisticated Manhattanites and adopt aesthetics as a substitute for religion. Shedding our proud tradition of Anglo-Saxon philistinism will not be an easy task, but two new studies may guide us towards the gilded path of the cognoscenti. The first comes from the excellent but relatively unknown Dulwich Picture Gallery, recently compared by its director, Desmond Shaw-Taylor, to a fountain of Puligny-Montrachet spouting in SE21. Written by the prominent Royal Academician, Tom Phillips, Aspects of Art is an alphabetical guide to painting (from "Abstract" to "Zigzag") which utilises examples from the Dulwich collection.

Not that Mr Phillips is uncritical of the works he has selected - illustrating "B for Beauty", he describes Van der Werff's Judgement of Paris as "incompetent" and "beastly". A Canaletto panorama of Venice ("D for detail") is savaged as having a "factory-made look... for the tourist market". The ornamental border surrounding a Dutch flower painting ("F for frame") is damned as "clumsy", "leaden", "stiff and unimaginative". Of Lely's Nymphs by a Fountain ("N for Naked"), he merely sniffs "everything has gone wrong". However, the entry for "H" finds Mr Phillips in more generous mood because it enables him to ruminate on an artwork called A Humument, which happens to be by T Phillips RA. He modestly compares this extended project - it involves painting over the 367 pages of a Victorian book - with the endeavours of Rembrandt and Poussin.

Amid these sagacious opinions, Mr Phillips offers a useful practical tip for better appreciating art. Visitors to art galleries should, he suggests, enhance the experience by "looking at pictures through a dark tube (even a rolled-up magazine will do) held very close to one eye (with the other eye shut)... Suddenly, you are in the painter's own world, sharing his own experience or vision of light." While I look forward to the day that our great galleries are crowded with spectators peering down makeshift telescopes like artistic admirals, I think it is unfortunate that Mr Phillips does not specify which publication is best suited for the purpose. The Spectator would make an appropriate spyglass, but most fitting of all is Private Eye.

The second publication which assists putative aesthetes is published by the National Gallery. A Feast for the Eyes, by Gillian Riley, draws together recipes and culinary lore inspired by works in the collection. She notes that the exotic hues of medieval paintings reflected the colourful foodstuffs of the time - though "the unearthly bright white of biancomangiare dotted with crimson pomegranate seeds" loses something when you realise this translates as blancmange.

Ms Riley points out the dish served to Christ in Caravaggio's The Supper at Emmaus is a toothsome pot roast guinea fowl ("Anoint inside and out with oil and stuff with juniper berries and herbs") and the sulky young woman in Velazquez's Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of Martha and Mary is preparing a yummy sauce from eggs, garlic, chile and oil.

The 17th-century English school prompts Ms Riley to include a recipe for almond cakes by Sir Kenelm Digby, who also invented sage and onion stuffing. Coincidentally, the result of another of his recipes (viper wine, a concoction of snake venom intended to enhance beauty) can be seen at Dulwich Art Gallery: Van Dyck's Lady Venetia Digby on her Death-bed. Ms Riley concludes her banquet with a selection of impressionist nosh. She notes that pumpkin soup is endowed with "the `high yellow tone'... that Van Gogh craved with a mystic yearning" and would have been the "perfect restorative" for the artist's stability. Sadly, because the National Gallery collection finishes in 1920, we are not treated to any irresistible dishes inspired by Damien Hirst and the other Young British Artists currently showing at the RA. Grand Poisson au Formaldehyde would indeed be a memorable experience for the taste-buds.

I had an experience powerfully evocative of Damien's pickled shark, which is snappily entitled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, at a dinner-party in south-west London last Saturday. Our host, who is something of a neophyte in the culinary arts, produced a massive poached salmon. Without going into details, a single taste of this ichthyological monstrosity was enough to reveal that it was not in the first flush of youth. The fish was no spring chicken. Guests thoughtfully switched their mouthfuls from cheek to cheek like the swaying pendulum of a grandfather clock.

After making our excuses for ceasing mastication, we eventually asked our host when he had purchased his salmon, "Oh, it's fresh enough," he breezily replied. "I only bought it last Wednesday morning." The piscine ponger was dispatched via the drainage disposal unit until nothing remained except a single turbid eye glaring up from the black hole. However, in true Hirstian fashion, the departed creature continued to hover in the room in the form of an ectoplasmic whiff. Munching on the vegetables suddenly promoted to the role of entree, we mused how life is but a pale imitation of art.

The bizarrely-titled Frank is the latest swollen woman's magazine to jostle its way on to the overcrowded newsstand. But in Frank's case, fecundity is not limited to the number of pages (242). In its launch issue, the magazine chose to use models in an advanced state of pregnancy for one of its fashion spreads. The resulting brouhaha was, I'd imagine, not entirely displeasing to the management of the journal, though the editor Tina Gaudoin managed to work up a good head of steam in response to criticism. "Well, I don't care if people find it offensive," declared this arbiter elegantiarum, "because it's incredibly beautiful."

Personally, I was more perplexed by Frank's final page, a section called "Relax". It is hard to tell if this gallimaufry of consumer items is entirely serious. We're informed about the specialised services offered by a "colonic guru" ("one of the after-effects can be euphoria"), a fashionable masseur who inconveniently happens to be based in Paris, and an anti-bark dog- collar which releases "a soothing mist of citronella essential oil" whenever the wearer commences woofing. It was the illustration for this last item - a hand holding a revolver to the head of an appealing black-and-white pooch which captured my attention. The very same shot used to be a regular feature in the US satirical magazine, National Lampoon, where it was captioned: "Subscribe - or we'll shoot this dog!" Perhaps this would be going a little too far, even for the fearless young Turks at Frank

It is an acknowledged fact that Hollywood cannot resist a new challenge. The ground-breaking blockbusters lined up for release in summer 1998 include a re-make of Doctor Dolittle starring Eddie Murphy, a re-make of Godzilla by the masters of subtlety who made Independence Day, a remake of The Avengers starring Sean Connery as meteorologically-obsessed villain August De Winter, and an adaptation of a Fifties sci-fi novel called I Am Legend in which Arnold Schwarzenegger "wars with superhuman mutants" - though it could be hard to tell which is which.

The economics of movie-making are one of the world's great perplexities. According to Newsweek, 10 of the films which opened this summer, cost around $100 million each". Fortunately, it's been a bumper year for ticket sales and "a record number of movies - 10 - should make $100 million in the US". Obviously, foreign sales help to bump up profits, so I'm pleased to report there were seven of us watching Men in Black the other night and five turned up for Conspiracy Theory

Comments