Thursday, July 15, 2010

Norwich Castle

Today, primarily because my mate nigel enthused over a current temporary exhibition, I visited Norwich Castle Museum. Perched high upon an ancient earthworks in the very centre of the City, the Castle has dominated the Norwich city-scape for over 800 years. The Norman conquerors who constructed it and the Cathedral, affectionately nicknamed it Blanchefleur or White Flower. One can be sure that the local Saxon populace who paid tithes and taxes to their Norman conquerors would have called it something far less complimentary! The Castle has been a Museum for over 100 years now. Included in its Art Collection is Thorpe Water Frolic and The Paston Treasure.

The Castle Museum is presently hosting two temporary exhibitions, the first: Beatles to Bowie, the sixties exposed, is an exhibition of over 150 portrait photographs of pop stars including The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie and The Rolling Stones. I couldn't help noticing the average age of the people attending this exhibition was near, or at, retirement age, which suddenly made me feel very old! Anyway, it was very enjoyable looking at these now historical photographs. Almost all of the photo's exhibited seemed to be portraits of artists who, immediately a camera-lens is pointed towards them suddenly become extremely photogenic. Even a very young Marianne Faithfull, barely out of Convent school appears supremely photogenic.

Marianne Faithfull, The Salisbury Pub, London (1964) by Gered Mankowitz

It's a curious fact that the great great Uncle of Marianne Faithfull (b.1946) was none other than Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1836-95) the Austrian nobleman and author of the erotic novel, Venus in Furs (1870). Through his surname and the subject-matter of his novel, the word masochism was introduced into the English language. Faithfull is also credited with introducing to Rolling Stone Mick Jagger the occult novel by Mikhail Bulgakov, 'The Master and Margarita' (1938), which inspired the Rolling Stones song, 'Sympathy for the Devil.'

The other temporary exhibition was perfectly complimentary to pop portraits; Flashback, a retrospective of the art of Bridget Riley (b.1931) .

Riley's optical canvases have always fascinated me ever since seeing one of her works reproduced on an early 1970's LP cover. Although Riley's art-work typifies the psychedelic era, she herself is quite uninvolved with such drug-induced illusions. Will Self has written a perceptive, if somewhat critical review of Riley's paintings. However it was good to be reminded that Britain was innovative in the 1960's in the world of visual art with pop artists including Riley as well as David Hockney, Richard Hamilton, Peter Blake and Norwich-born Colin Self contributing to Britain's 'Golden Age'.

Movement in Squares 1961

Anyway, while I've been writing this post it has just been announced that Norwich City, the 6/4 favourite in betting for the award of UK City of Culture 2013, competing against Sheffield, Birmingham and Londonderry, has lost to the city of Londonderry. It's difficult not to think that this has been awarded as a gesture of atonement for the 1972 'Bloody Sunday' atrocity for a City in need of re-development and financial investment, rather than its cultural achievements. I cannot think of a single aspect of the arts in Londonderry or Derry which has contributed towards British culture, other than its association with Noble-prize winning author Seamus Heaney. This award is not so much for cultural achievement and aspiration but more to do with politics and economic generation than cultural status. Just take a look at the population of each respective City - Birmingham over 1,000,000, Sheffield over 5000,000, Norwich inc. outskirts 360,000 and Londonderry 84,000.

Even though Norwich has lost this highly prestigious award it remains a City of significant stature in European culture. So to cheer myself up, here's another optical image which demonstrates that seeing is not always believing, or rather, how easily the human senses can be deceived.

Do not adjust your screen!
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