Monday, December 22, 2008

Affordable London

An interesting article from the New York Times…  To visit London, call Across the Pond Vacations at 310-791-6101, or visit us online at



A Falling Pound and Must-See Art


Published: December 21, 2008

THE unthinkable has happened: London is actually starting to become an affordable destination for American travelers. The pound has dropped to about $1.50 (it was around $2.10 this summer), a number of top hotels are offering great weekend deals ($230 a night at the trendy St. Martin’s Lane; $196 at the Metropolitan, off Hyde Park), and airlines are cutting prices, with some fares in January as low as $560 round trip.

But the fall of the pound isn’t the only reason to head to London right now. The city is also home to three exciting, must-see art exhibits.

Two — one at Tate Britain and one at Tate Modern — are devoted to unquestioned masters of 20th-century art: Francis Bacon and Mark Rothko. The Bacon retrospective, tied to the centenary of his birth, at Tate Britain (Millbank; 44-207887-8888;; £12.20 admission, about $18.40 at $1.51 to the pound) is an almost intoxicating show, particularly as it moves from his early works (like the series of paintings modeled after Velázquez’s “Portrait of Pope Innocent X”) to the near-hallucinatory portraits of his later years, like “Three Studies for a Crucifixion” (1962) and “Triptych — In Memory of George Dyer” (1971).

As a reviewer for The Independent put it: “I can’t think of a better 100th birthday present than this, a show whose scale allows us to see the scale of its subject; a man whose theme and whose genius lay in instinct.” The show closes Jan. 4.

The Rothko show at Tate Modern (Bankside; 44-20-7887-8888;; £12.20) — through Feb. 1 — is just as revelatory. It brings together for the first time 15 of the Seagram Murals, pulling together works from the Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art in Sakura, Japan, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, as well as eight in the Tate’s collection.

In 1958, Rothko was commissioned to paint a series of murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building in New York City, designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson. But the artist soon had doubts about the appropriateness of a restaurant for his work and declined the commission.

Also on view are “Four Darks in Red” (1958) and the famed “Black on Gray” paintings (1969 and 1970), which were the painter’s final series before his death in 1970.

The third show is very much devoted to the here and now: an overview of contemporary Chinese art. “The Revolution Continues: New Art From China” is at the new Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea (Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road; 44-20-7823-2363;

Charles Saatchi, the former advertising-mogul-turned-art-collector who made his name with the Sensation show in 1997 (and who since has gained added fame as the husband of Nigella Lawson), has for the past several years turned his attention to the Far East and this first show reflects that interest.

It has a kind of grab-bag feel to it — a recent viewer commented that it looked as though the British collector had swept through galleries in Beijing and Shanghai, saying “I’ll take one of these, and one of that” — but there is no denying the skill and imagination of these artists. Some are as much about texture as technique (as in the Liu Wie sculpture made of edible dog chews, and the paintings by Zhang Huan that are composed of incense ash from temples).

And almost every visitor to the gallery seems to stand dumbfounded before “Communication” by Cang Xin, wondering why this person is sprawled on the floor — before realizing it is an eerily lifelike latex sculpture. There is also surprising wit in the Mao paintings by Shi Xinning and a compelling directness in the haunting portraits by Zhang Xiaogang.

Admission is free, but shell out £1.50 for the helpful booklet, with its keen observations on each of the works.


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