The Weasel

Having attended two of London's major art events last week, I feel a little confused. One is a Chelsea Flower Show of the art world, the other is renowned as its radical, cutting edge

Having attended two of London's major art events last week, I feel a little confused. You might think the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition and Goldsmiths College Fine Arts Degree Show would be at opposite ends of the spectrum. One is a Chelsea Flower Show of the art world, incorporating the famous, the worthy and the uninspired - and the other is renowned as the radical, cutting edge of British art. Yet I have found the two experiences becoming curiously scrambled in my mind

The centrepiece at the RA show is as angry a piece as I've ever seen. Called Sandra Three, it is a 16-item assemblage (price: pounds l million) executed in a ferocious outburst by the American artist, R B Kitaj. A couple of rooms away, there is a wonderful bust by David Mach made of coat-hangers. At Goldsmiths College in south-east London, the work on display includes several delicate still-lifes of fruit by May-May Jungsai. (The literal nature of her titles may mislead art-lovers seeking bargains. A work entitled St Michael Ripe and Ready-to-Eat Nectarines. Save 50p, pounds 1.99 is actually selling for pounds 450.) Elsewhere, Emily-Jo Sargent is displaying stylised landscapes entitled Weston-Super-Mare and Hastings, Famous since 1066.

Despite the manifold ironies, there's lots on show at Lewisham Way SE 14 which is unlikely to make an appearance at the RA's posh joint on Piccadilly. Melanie Verhille's luxuriously displayed hair-balls, Kyoto Ebata's distressingly stained white jeans, and Catherine Armell's trouser-shaped shopping trolleys are still a touch outre for the academicians. On the other hand, I doubt if Goldsmiths would thank you for Hong Kong Panorama, a vast, frigid landscape by Ben Johnson which opens the RA show. A bragging notice explains: "The preparatory drawing took over 2,500 hours, the mixing of more than 500 colours took 240 hours... Time spent making the painting was 10,860 hours or 271 weeks, equal to six working years." I may not know what I like, but I know this isn't art.

Well, have you read it? At the press preview of Channel 4's version of Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, the Weasel was obliged to adjust his tie nervously and mutter something about "capturing the spirit of the work". No, since you ask, I haven't actually finished the 12-novel sequence. Never started it, to be honest. Anyway, by this autumn, we'll all be experts. The star-studded televisual version is a treat. Perhaps the last of the classy TV block-busters, it is the brainchild of screenwriter Hugh Whitemore, who had the task of boiling down the monumental 12-novel sequence into four two-hour episodes. At the press preview I attended the other day, the films were further condensed into a 45-minute selection of clips. Like the most important bits of real life, the screening mainly consisted of sex and death.

There can scarcely be another work of modern fiction which rouses such fervour among its readers. Dance fans will be pleased to hear that the 90-year-old author has seen and approved the first three films to be finished. At the press screening, the Daily Telegraph's Hugh Massingberd expressed doubts about the style of a cap worn by an undergraduate in the Twenties. Personally, I felt that a violent student demonstration set in 1963 was somewhat premature. Channel 4's commissioning editor, Peter Amsorge, agreed: "I suggested they move it on a few years, but that's when it is set in the book."

At the heart of all four films is a remarkable performance by the fine classical actor, Simon Russell Beale, who plays the pompous and power- hungry Kenneth Widmerpool. In the course of the action, he ages from 16 to 60-odd. As the decades roll by, his hair thins and a corrugation of fat accumulates at his collar. I asked Alvin Rakoff, the producer of the films, how the actor achieved this astonishingly credible transformation. "Partly make-up, but he did put on a few pounds," he said. I'm sure the estimable Mr Russell Beale will not follow the example of fellow thesp Robert De Niro, who accumulated 60lb for his role as Jake La Motta in Raging Bull. Finding he had trouble in shedding this load when filming finished, he sued director Martin Scorsese. As if anticipating a similar occurrence, a Channel 4 spokeswoman remarked, "Well, Simon has never been exactly wafer-thin, you know."

Wilde, starring Stephen Fry as the incomparable wit, is another eagerly anticipated feast at the cinema. Though it's a pretty safe bet that "the love that dare not speak its name" will play a not insignificant part in the film, it is interesting to speculate which other aspects of the brilliant Irish polymath will be explored in Julian Mitchell's screenplay.

We know of Oscar as an aesthete, as poet, as loving father, as fabulist, as triumphant playwright and as dazzling conversationalist - even Oscar as the editor of Woman's World. But an unexpected facet of this generous but ill-fated genius is: Wilde as roadbuilder.

Oscar the hod-carrier made a brief appearance in 1874 when the great art critic John Ruskin encouraged Oxford students to beautify their city by transforming a swampy lane called Ferry Hinksey into a flower-bordered country road. Wilde, who generally preferred to rise in the afternoon, made a rare effort to wake at dawn. He later boasted that he had been privileged to fill "Mr Ruskin's especial wheel-barrow", and was instructed by the master himself in the mysteries of wheeling such a vehicle from place to place. This intriguing sidelight on Wilde comes from Richard Elliman's monumental biography, which notes that, for all the efforts of this unlikely gang of navvies, "the road slowly sank from sight". As Oscar might have said: "There is only one thing in the world worse than being walked about, and that is not being walked about."

A letter sold for pounds 84,000 at Sotheby's last week. Not letter as in missive, but letter as in symbol or character. To be precise, it was a capital "V" torn from an illuminated manuscript. Attributed to Fra Angelica, the richly embellished initial is a long-lost page from a sumptuous gradual or book of chants owned by the Florentine monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli. For his own sake, I hope the new owner is not familiar with the works of M R James, the unparalleled maitre of the horror genre.

The sale of the lost letter is uncannily reminiscent of James's fleshcreeper, Canon Alberic's Scrapbook. This concerns a 19th-century academic who, while touring the cathedrals of southern France, buys a hoard of illustrations ripped from medieval manuscripts: "Such a collection Dennistoun had hardly dreamed of in his wildest moments. Here were 10 leaves from a copy of Genesis, no later than 700AD. Further on, a set of pictures from a Psalter, the very finest that the 13th century could produce."

But, as always with M R James, that most moral of tale-spinners, a heavy penalty is exacted from the recipient of such vandalism. Much to Dennistoun's alarm, one of the illustrations comes to life: "...eyes, of a fiery yellow, against which the pupils showed black and intense, and the exulting hate and thirst to destroy life which shone there, were the most horrifying features in the whole vision."

Though I trust no such outbreak of unpleasantness accompanies the magnificent "V", I would have thought that for pounds 84,000, some guarantee against supernatural retribution might be included

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
indybestKeep extra warm this year with our 10 best bedspreads
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
voicesBy the man who has
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

    Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

    £120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

    PMLD Teacher

    Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

    Real Estate Solicitor 2+PQE - City

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGH VALUE REAL ESTATE / RESID...

    Day In a Page

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?