Victoria’s Arts & Culture Round-Up: Dissidents and Icons

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It’s October, which means that shows and exhibitions all over town are opening and closing as the Autumn/Winter seasons get into full swing.

Art

Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy is the biggest art show of the season, in terms of coverage, at least. Ai’s work has been very controversial in his home country of China, so much so that Ai was detained for almost three months by the Chinese government. Even after this his passport was removed from him to prevent him travelling.

All these acts generated headlines around the world, making Ai probably the most famous artist in the world – with the possible exception of Damien Hirst. But on the announcement of this show at the RA, and fearful of negative publicity, the Chinese government returned Ai’s passport to him and he was able to work on this exhibition.

But for all of Ai’s new celebrity status – now jet-setting around the world and hanging out with Bono (poor man) – this exhibition is a rather sombre affair that brings into sharp focus the scale and impact the Chinese government’s attempts at censorship have had on the artist.

Ai Weiwei, Bicycle Chandelier, 2015 Bicycles and crystals, 500 x 430 cm Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio Photo courtesy of Royal Academy of Arts, London. Photography ???? Dave Parry. (c) Ai Weiwei

No doubt people will flock to this show to see the art behind the artist. It’ll be interesting to hear what they think for though Ai may be the most famous, he isn’t the most brilliant of artists. But though his pieces may not amaze, they are too important to overlook. There is much to learn and absorb from this vital exhibition.

Theatre

A spate of new shows has opened this week.

The king that is Mark Rylance reprise his role as, well, a king in Farinelli & the King following its transfer from the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse to the Duke of York’s. The opportunity to see the great man on the stage does not come around too often so if you can, go. This is a wonderful evening that blends theatre and opera in a tale on the healing power of music.

Farinelli-514 captioned (776x1280)

At the other end of the spectrum is the Almeida Theatre’s drastic reworking of Medea, the Greek tragedy about a woman driven to murder her children. It’s one of my favourite plays and one of the few great roles for women on stage but this version didn’t quite work for me. Writer Rachel Cusk has dragged the story into the 21st century with contemporary language and a fresh perspective but Medea herself is diminished, though Kate Fleetwood gives it her all in a full-blooded performance.

But for those of you after a bright night of entertainment and a story full of heart, look no further than Tipping the Velvet at Lyric Hammersmith. This famous story of a lesbian in Victorian England finding the courage to live without shame has been turned into a music hall extravaganza blending theatrical spectacle with a bit of Pet Shop Boys, Prince and Bronski Beat. And you can’t go wrong with that soundtrack.

Photography

Audrey Hepburn’s iconic status is beyond doubt so it’s no surprise that Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon, the major photography exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, has been a huge success. The show is now in its last few weeks so if you’re a fan of either Audrey or the development of fashion photography, catch it whilst you still can!

1955 La Vigna, Italy -  signed  'Halsman N.Y.' - LIFE Magazine cover July 18, 1955

This show spans the life of this enduring star, from her early years in the Netherlands, through her years in London on the West End stage and then on to the height of her fame as an actress and fashion inspiration, and her later philanthropic work.

There is an impressive range of photography on display with rare family photographs included alongside portraits from some of the leading photographers of the 20th century, such as Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton and Irving Penn.

Fashion

The big fashion exhibition of the year at the V&A was the spectacular McQueen retrospective, Savage Beauty. But though that has now closed, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain is still open and it is a fascinating exhibition that examines the constant fascination with shoes throughout history.

Shoes are a popular subject and it could have been so easy for the V&A to pull together a couple of hundred pairs of shoes, place them prettily and charge an admission fee for still, visitors would have come. So credit to the V&A curation team for deciding to interrogate this subject for the result is a revealing and challenging exhibition on a much-loved item that has as much intellectual discourse as flash of celebrity.

Shoes The Red Shoes (1280x960)

Included in the exhibition are some big celebrity draws including a pair of David Beckham’s football boots, the infamous Vivienne Westwood platforms that caused Naomi Campbell to trip on the catwalk, and Moira Shearer’s deadly ballet slippers from The Red Shoes.

For last week’s round-up, including Grace Jones, Lana del Rey, Pop Art and more, click here.

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