Art for the masses as big London shows open

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ART AND design can now be described as mass entertainment after the Royal Academy yesterday announced record advance bookings for its Monet exhibition and two other keenly anticipated shows opened their doors to the public.

London last night saw the opening of the Design Museum exhibition, Modern Britain 1929-1939 - of which The Independent is the media sponsor - while, across the Thames, Art99, the London Contemporary Art Fair, held a charity gala opening presided over by Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture. At the same time, invited guests were given the first glimpse of the Royal Academy's certain blockbuster, Monet in the 20th Century.

That exhibition, which opens to the public on Saturday, has already sold 133,000 tickets, the biggest-ever advance booking for an art exhibition in the UK. In addition to the ticket sales, private businesses have booked every evening and breakfast for the duration of the three month exhibition.

According to Ticketmaster, which operates the advance ticket line, the exhibition is selling as good as a hit west end musical. However, the Royal Academy is worried that the public might think they cannot get in. In fact the galleries can accommodate up to half a million over the duration of the exhibition and everyone who turns up on the day should be able to get in.

Mary Ann Stevens, chief curator at the Royal Academy, said yesterday that researching the exhibition had brought new facts to light about Monet. Studying the canvases, many of which he did not exhibit, showed he had started on some of his most famous themes earlier than previously thought.

The exhibition includes some 80 paintings, including views of the artist's garden at Giverny and his atmospheric views of London and Venice. The exhibition culminates in an unparalleled gathering of hislast and greatest paintings: the monumental lily panels.