Leonardo and the oligarchs

Published on: Wed, 17/07/2019 - 08:45

Cath Fletcher reviews 'The Last Leonardo' by Ben Lewis (William Collins, 2019)

On 13 April 2019, The Times splashed on the headline “Fresh doubt over world’s most expensive painting”.

Accompanied by a picture of the Salvator Mundi, controversially attributed to Leonardo da Vinci in a National Gallery exhibition of 2011, the newspaper reported on claims in Ben Lewis’s book The Last Leonardo that the attribution was now in doubt.

The Salvator Mundi sold at auction for $450 million in November 2017 (a picture of Christ holding a crystal globe, its title means Saviour of the World). The buyer is

Building utility with beauty

Published on: Wed, 30/01/2019 - 11:06

Len Glover

1919 is rightly being celebrated as the year of revolution, but there is another centenary to celebrate: that of the Bauhaus.

There is a song, “Bread and Roses”, much sung on the left, which draws attention to the fact that not only do we need bread to survive but we also need roses. The world we want to build not only has to provide food, warmth, work, shelter for all, but it must be beautiful too. Marxists do not worship ugliness or depravity, nor do we recognise a world where beauty is monopolised by the wealthy and the elite. We do not trash old buildings or gardens, burn oil

Learning from the mural row

Published on: Tue, 10/04/2018 - 19:46

Matt Cooper

In the recent furore about antisemitism on the left triggered by the uncovering of Jeremy Corbyn’s 2012 defence of Kalen Ockerman’s mural Freedom for Humanity, much of the coverage found it unnecessary to explain the nature of the mural’s antisemitism.

But explained it should be, if we want to learn from the episode rather than just use it as a factional gambit. First, there is the Eye of Providence which is depicted on the dollar bill, but is a common piece of antisemitic iconography (see below).
Then, the depiction of the bankers and capitalists. Most clearly, the banker on the left

The responsibility that comes with seeing

Published on: Wed, 12/04/2017 - 11:39

Pat Yarker

Pat Yarker reviews Incoming, free at The Curve, Barbican, London, until 23 April.

Hundreds of thousands of people continue to flee war and persecution in the Middle East and northern Africa. Thousands die as they attempt to find safety in Europe. This installation, an artwork not a documentary, comprises almost an hour of video footage of migrants and refugees making their perilous journey.

Mosse, a prizewinning photographer, and his collaborators, Trevor Tweeten, a cinematographer, and Ben Frost, a composer, used a military-grade thermal imaging camera to film in the Aegean sea and the

Writing out anti-bourgeois art

Published on: Wed, 29/03/2017 - 12:31

Hugh Daniels

Hugh Daniels reviews Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932, at the Royal Academy until 17 April.

The first room in this exhibition is dedicated to images of leaders. While one side is dominated by pictures of Lenin, the other largely has images of Stalin. This opening seems designed to confirm a pre-assumption which many visitors are likely to hold ― that the art of the Soviet Union was designed to glorify its leaders and normalise their rule. Yet, in the wake of Lenin’s death in 1924, there was actually considerable debate among artists over how he should be commemorated and how his image should

John Berger and seeing politically

Published on: Wed, 18/01/2017 - 12:50

Hugh Daniels

Since the death of John Berger on 2 January the bourgeois press has squirmed over the task of commemorating a major public figure who was also a lifelong Marxist. Some have responded by simply attacking him.

In the Sunday Times (8 January 2017) Waldemar Januszczack made snide jokes about Berger’s speech impediment, deliberately misunderstood his refusal to fetishise art objects and pretended that his decision to give significant screen time to female commentators in a TV episode on art and gender was somehow a sign of his own chauvinism. Others have generally been milder in their criticisms,

Autocollants: the public face of the activist

Published on: Tue, 02/12/2014 - 19:08

Beth Redmond

Workers' Liberty has produced a set autocollants (political stickers, widely used in other countries but not until now in Britain: see here)

In his book on autocollants, Zvonimir Novak argues that in France, progressively over the last 40 years, the autocollant has become the “means of expression of those who do not have access to the mainstream media”.

In France, the typical autocollant is about A6 size (about 15cm by 10) and rectangular. It may be stuck on your jacket, your bag, your helmet, your car, or your notebook, but it is also stuck on public places — lamp-posts, bus stops, walls,

William Morris in political context

Published on: Tue, 25/11/2014 - 18:41

Michéal MacEoin

The William Morris exhibition Anarchy & Beauty at the National Portrait Gallery is well worth a visit for anyone interested in Morris, his art, and the late nineteenth-century socialist movement.

The opening section, a rounded appreciation of Morris, is a marked contrast to the common view of him as a largely apolitical purveyor of Victorian handicrafts. As well as some of Morris’s early wallpaper designs and an armchair produced by his collaborator and friend Philip Webb, we find the 1893 paperback edition of News from Nowhere. The justly famous imagining of a less alienated and more

The gothic reaction to industrial capitalism

Published on: Tue, 11/11/2014 - 17:41

Luke Hardy

What have Karl Marx, Dracula, a modern robotic production line and St Pancras station got in common? According to Andrew Dixon they all have more then a touch of the gothic about them.

In this three part series, Dixon makes a convincing and fascinating case that the gothic sensibility has become a way of responding to and critiquing industrial capitalism and the urbanism, technology and pollution that comes with it.

Dixon points out that the modern, world-wide obsession with the irrational, deranged, morbid and spectral that makes up gothic started out as little more then an aristocratic

Between art and activism

Published on: Tue, 07/10/2014 - 18:31

Luke Neal

As the Labour and Conservative parties staged their annual conferences, an exhibition entitled Politika: Art & the Affairs of the City was staged in a former cotton mill in Ancoats, Manchester.

Curated by the “insurgent art activist” collective Upper Space, 20 artists put on a programme of workshops, speakers and activities “to generate starting points for an answer, another view, in order to to sustain another ideology against consumerism and the disempowerment that it represents”.

Perhaps the best element was Politika’s attempt at engagement with the residents of Ancoats, who have been

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