Monday, 7 December 2009

Great Kaleidoscopes! Look at the Golden Wonders

A couple of golden wonders have caught my eye this December, the first being this year's Turner Prize-winning piece by Richard Wright. It is a delicious whirl of gold-leaf, like a heavenly kaleidoscope composed of delicate swirls, painstakingly painted directly onto a huge white expanse of Tate Britain's gallery space. Not so golden was a BBC interviewer's question to Wright, "You can't get rich out of this, can you?" I suppose the query is meant to be tongue in cheek, but it really just exposes the extreme shallowness of expectations about the art market. Which can't have been helped by phenomenally inflated million-pound price tags for pieces of art. If we want the art world to change, attitudes towards it must change as well, or the spenders will think, "Oh, we're being criticised, we might as well live up to our charges!"

Another golden wonder of the last week or so is the exciting debate provoked by Mark Lawson's article for The Guardian, "Is this a new golden age for theatre?" which was swiftly followed by Lyn Gardner's own piece, "A golden age for theatre? Yes and no" after numerous calls for a response in comments posted below Lawson's original article. Nice to see that there's a vibrant buzz about all things theatre.

Finally in this speculation of golden wonders, and somewhat at a tangent to those previous (as it's late and I need to get to sleep), involves a parrot with forks for feet, that shrieks "Pieces of Eight! Pieces of Eight!" in Northern Broadsides' production of Treasure Island, which I recently saw at Scarborough's Stephen Joseph Theatre. With a brilliant lack of actual gold throughout the show, the real treasure trove lay in the wealth of characterisation and innovative puppetry that was niftily deployed by the talented cast. (Incidentally, the puppetmaster's name? Lee Threadgold.)

Needless to say, I've shimmied up to my virtual crow's nest, eagerly scanning the cultural horizon for more seasonal golden wonders. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Chronicles of the Chihuahua: Mansfield to Hilton

So you thought - as I did - that the fashion for teensy, tiny, skeletal dogs with oversized ears was a new one? Sorry, Jayne Mansfield and others were already toting their own “adorable” jewellery pets from as early as 1967, as I mentioned on my Twitter page earlier today.

It seems that our twenty-first century fashionista, Paris Hilton, had a forerunner in 1950s American actress Jayne Mansfield (here pictured in one of Jane Bown's legendary black and white portraits, touting a delightful chihuahua). Set in the Marilyn Monroe-mould, her looks were often the main source of attention, an impression she surely capitalised on, singing songs like "Too Hot to Handle", and posing for Playboy spreads. She said of her cleavage, "it helped me a lot to get where I am". The feminist-forward lyrics of "I Enjoy Being a Girl" are also particularly endearing:

"I am proud that my silhouette is curvy,
that I walk with a sweet and girly gait,
with my hips kind of swivelly and swirly,
I adore being dressed in something frilly,
when my date comes to get me at my place,
out I go with my John, or Joe, or Billy,
Like a filly who is ready for the race!"

Titled "Man, oh man, oh Mansfield!" in the media, she repeatedly capitalised on the fame brought to her by accidentally-on purpose exposing her nipples at public functions, stunts which earned monumental press attention, if not serious roles.

Mansfield's IMDB page ( poses a stirling defence of her intelligence, and this unfortunate inability to get credible roles, but in light of her publicity-seeking behaviour, and the sort of songs she indulged in, this isn't exactly surprising. She wasn't exactly striking one in the eye in defence of the mental faculty of women across the globe.

Mansfield appears to be a canny model for - supposedly self-released - sex-tape star Paris Hilton, whose own "clever" brand of inanity was recently revealed in the so-called documentary, Fearne and... Paris, as an insidious, calculated act. Incredibly, after this ITV show we were meant to warm to Paris's undeniable falseness, and believe that really, she's just doing good business. To admire her as a cunning businesswoman is like admiring Jordan for her ability to find a great ghostwriter. Unnecessary, and more than a little ludicrous.

Aside from assuming her ridiculous love of chihuahuas, let's hope Paris doesn't go too far in her efforts to follow in the footsteps of Hollywood starlet Mansfield, who met an untimely death in a motoring accident in 1967, along with two of her four treasured pets. Oh no, not Paris. She's far too canny for that.

FYI, check out Jane Bown’s black and white portrait exhibition "100 Portraits", which is currently at Northumbria University, after opening at King's Place, London in October, and her glossy new book Exposures, a collection of her photography work for the Observer spanning over sixty years, recently went on sale. Deluxe coffee table book for Christmas, anyone?