The Week in Arts: Simple brilliance from the National Gallery

Share
Related Topics

Which gallery is the gallery runner's gallery? (Don't try that sentence out loud after a night out.) The answer, though, is rather interesting. When the Museum of Modern Art in New York was beginning its recent revamp, all of its curators were asked to name the art gallery where they would most like to spend a day. The MoMA curators answered as one. They all chose the National Gallery in London.

Which gallery is the gallery runner's gallery? (Don't try that sentence out loud after a night out.) The answer, though, is rather interesting. When the Museum of Modern Art in New York was beginning its recent revamp, all of its curators were asked to name the art gallery where they would most like to spend a day. The MoMA curators answered as one. They all chose the National Gallery in London.

This piece of internal MoMA research, reported in the art magazine Apollo, is a glowing tribute, and the reason behind the MoMA curators' unanimity is worth mentioning. They cited the self-contained theme of each room, the ease of circulation between rooms with several entrances so that the visitor was not obliged to follow a "beads on a chain" route, and the overall size of the building that enables visitors to see all rooms in one day.

The new MoMA now has the same floor area as the National Gallery and the same concept of self-contained, single-theme, multi-entrance rooms. MoMA boasts that if one room, a room of Cézannes or abstract expressionism, was dropped in Central Park, it would exist on its own as a perfect mini-gallery.

The praise for the National Gallery is deserved, but a key element is missing; it is one that could, and I think should, inform the revamping of all art galleries in the future. Since receiving praise from those MoMA curators, the National Gallery has made a significant addition to the way it "sells" its collection to the visitor. Its new east-wing entrance has been much remarked upon for its architecture and ease of access from Trafalgar Square. It has been less remarked upon for what adorns its entrance hall.

Quite simply, it is a "greatest hits" sample from its key rooms. Visiting the National Gallery this week, I was impressed by the simplicity yet radicalism of the idea.

Immediately one enters the east wing from Trafalgar Square, one sees a plasma screen flashing up a Rembrandt self portrait, a Titian and so on. There will be critics of this approach. Traditionally, the visitor is supposed to discover paintings in their context, the context of the artist and his contemporaries. But if new entrances, shops and coffee bars are designed to bring in new audiences, then what can be wrong in titillating these new audiences (and old ones too) with the cream of the collection?

A visit to the cinema is not complete without trailers. Now we have a major art gallery with its own trailer. I predict that "greatest hits" in the foyer is an idea that will take off.

No fun when there are strings attached

I sense in the reviews I have read over the past week or so that the critics are falling out of love with Cirque du Soleil. The backlash, such as it is, is not helped by the company's slightly perverse decision to mount exactly the same show in London this year as they did last. I have been a champion of Cirque since it was created, but one aspect is beginning to niggle me.

While the artistry, technical prowess and innovation of the troupe are all undeniable, I do wonder why they wear safety harnesses. They may perform dazzling effects on trapeze, but when the audience can see the harness, those effects are somehow a little less impressive.

With its use of music and choreography, Cirque has taken what we think of as circus to a new level. But there is another word traditionally associated with circus: danger. That is part of the secret thrill for audiences. Cirque du Soleil has lost sight of that, and while I marvel at their artistry, my heart does not skip a beat.

¿ Cultural life, the column that appears in The Independent's Arts and Books Review on a Friday, has figures in the arts revealing current cultural pursuits. It has its intriguing moments. The actress Rebecca Hall says she does not go to opera because it is too expensive. Even the operas directed by her father, Sir Peter Hall?

My favourite so far has been the ballet dancer Carlos Acosta. He cites La Bohème as "a great feelgood family show". Which part, I wonder, makes him feel the most good? The bit where Mimi dies of consumption? On the other hand, you do have a good cry at La Bohème, but leave feeling more than satisfied by an evening well spent. Carlos Acosta has redefined the term "feelgood", but maybe he's not wrong.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Front End Web Developer - Magento

£28000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Front End Web Developer is re...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Greater London - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Ric...

SThree: IT Recruitment Consultant

£22500 - £30000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking for experie...

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner / Handyman

£16575 - £18785 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Dundee based butchers requ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Children shouldn’t even know the word 'diet' — obesity and lack of body confidence are symptoms of the same cause

Natasha Devon
Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Deadmau5, Kanye West and Jay-Z at the Tidal launch event in New York  

Tidal: An overpriced music streaming service that only benefits the super-rich members of a messianic-like cult? Where do I sign up??

Michael Segalov
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat