Titian: Love Desire Death, The National Gallery

Galleries, London, National Gallery

It was always going to be tricky to keep posting when literally every museum and gallery in the country was closed for a few months, but after a strange and frustrating lockdown we finally have started to see some of our favourite places reopen!

I must admit that the millions of pounds being spent on digitising collections has been completely wasted on me. Notwithstanding the obvious and eternal benefits of photographing, scanning, uploading and indexing the entirety of human civilisation, it just didn’t feel anywhere near as interesting or exciting to stare at an eye-wateringly high definition Lewis Chessman or Jan Van Eyck on a screen as you are now able to do, for instance, at the British Museum Collection Online or the National Gallery Collection Online.

After all, these online collections are not the actual collection, they are just a collection of reproductions of the actual collection. You can’t get the feel for the art or objects in the same way: the texture of the paint or material, the way light reacts and works with the surfaces, the polite little congregations you join or avoid, the peaceful rustle of a lot of people trying to make not a lot of noise. I won’t go into the smells, but for the most part I rank them somewhere up there with ‘old book’.

So, when we got tickets to go and see The National Gallery’s new Titian exhibition, I was very excited.

Titian is one of those artist who I know I should know a lot more about than I actually do know, if I ever want to be taken seriously by arty types. Luckily, I gave up being taken seriously by almost anyone a while ago and I’ll keep it to this: Titian was one of the first Western painters in history to really make their art, above all else, a (successful) pursuit of beauty. He considered his paintings the visual equivalent of poetry.

It’s open until 17th January 2021, alongside many other exhibitions in galleries across the country that have now (thankfully) started to reopen. Enjoy.

Wellcome Collection’s ‘Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic’, London

All, London, Museums, Wellcome Collection

The curators of ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ have pulled together a well-balanced mix of cheerily innocent and deeply sinister objects to explore the phenomenon of magic.

This is a short trip through the history of bent truths and humanity’s (successful?) attempts to connect, explore and communicate with the supernatural whilst trying to explain why we are so enthralled by the impossible and the dead.

The relatively no-nonsense open plan cafe in the foyer gives you the chance to reflect on the blurry edges of reality over a pot of tea.

My favourite bits:

  • A homemade and very, very creepy 20th century Ouija board covered in scratches. Even creepier: they used to sell these in children’s toy shops(!) in the 1800s…
  • A selection of magic wands from the 1920-50s. Apparently these had a variety of functions but they all look the same to me. I guess that’s the point.
  • The legendary Tommy Cooper’s iconic fez and a hilarious clip of his ‘disappearing egg’ trick.
  • The classic watch-me-saw-a-glamorous-assistant-in-half-but-not-really box, complete with a very nasty looking two-man saw.
  • A smartly presented monochrome frame-by-frame gallery of a classic cigarette trick. I still couldn’t work out how he did it!

The scores:

Exhibits: 6/10. Some nice highlights but ‘magic’ items felt a bit flat when on display.

Environment: 6/10. The Wellcome’s temporary space is, understandably, a blank canvas.

Refreshments: 6/10. Simple canteen with plenty of seats.

Cost & Location: 10/10. Free and very close to Euston and Euston Square stations.

Overall Score: 7/10.

The links: