Monday, 20 March 2017

America After the Fall is a bona fide must-see

American Gothic, Grant Wood
A couple of weeks ago, booking for the following evening to see America After the Fall at the Royal Academy, I observed to The Other Half that it would be worth the entry fee just to see Grant Wood’s iconic American Gothic.

As we discovered 24 hours later,  that was an entirely fair statement. But the rest of this concise exhibition means that its £12 ticket is an even better – if unexpected – bargain. 

Entering the first of just three rooms and turning left, one of the first works you see is Aspiration, a big canvas by Aaron Douglas, painted in 1936.

In the foreground are the manacled hands of slaves, while rising above them are three African American figures holding symbols of education, looking and pointing toward a bright future that’s represented by a conjunction of industry and tower blocks that could be Oz meeting Metropolis.

Aspirations, Aaron Douglas
A really strong piece, its key to the exhibition, which it also links to the RA’s other running show on Russian revolutionary art until 1932.

Here is the same hope for a better future; the same harking back to a rosy past and a hagiographic representation of tradition (in both cases, of agriculture) and the future – also in both cases, of industry.

Seeing them both is not obligatory, but doing so certainly benefits the understanding and appreciation of each one. 

Here, in the industrial category, we have work by Charles Sheeler – pristine industrial landscapes that come close to a sort of super-realism, including Classic Landscape from 1931, while Suspended Power (1939) is reminiscent of the some of the Russian industrial photography on display downstairs.

O Louis Guglielmi’s Phoenix from 1935 includes a portrait of Lenin within a landscape that is arguably close to di Chirico in terms of it use of symbols.

Cotton Pickers, Thomas Hart Benton
And indeed, it’s worth remembering that many of the artists shown here were themselves immigrants or first-generation Americans. The influences of European art are clear.

As are the political influences. Peter Blumes The Eternal City (1934-37) is a savage, Daliesque take on Mussolini, while Philip Gustons Bombardment (1937) is from the same year and covers the same subject as PicassoGuernica.

In terms of the natural landscape, there’s Alexandre Hogue’s Erosion No2 – Mother Earth Laid Bare (1936), which rather overdoes the point and was disappointing after works by Hogue we’d previously seen at the Pompidou in Paris.

Daughters of the Revolution, Grant Wood
Thomas Hart Benton’s pastoral paintings are more interesting – not least because one on display, Cotton Pickers (1945) treads a fine line between the brutal realism of picking cotton and sentiment: personally, I think he just manages to get it right.

But nobody could be in any doubt that Joe Joness American Justice (1933), showing the aftermath of a KKK lynching, is intended as anything other than a total damning of such racist murders.

Young Corn, Grant Wood
Yet the revelation here is Grant Wood.

Yes, yes … we all know and recognise American Gothic (1930). And it is a brilliant work that merits time spent looking at it in detail, including up close enough to see the brush work (it needs a clean, mind).

But this one painting has so come to define Wood that few of us – certainly on this side of The Pond – will be aware of his other works. From the stylised, pastoral landscapes such as Young Corn (1931) to the history painting of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (1931), from his simply brilliant Daughters of the Revolution (1932) to the equally fabulous Death on the Ridge Road (1935) – which seems to nod to comic book art – Woods paintings are a major reason to visit this exhibition.

Death on the Ridge Road, Grant Wood
Deceptively simple on many occasions, his use of perspective and angles illustrates the facile nature of such a view.

I haven’t even mentioned the two works by Edward Hopper – and they are no disappointment either.

Indeed, quite the contrary. Hopper was a superb artist. Gas, from 1940, is an absolute star of a painting, with a haunting sense of mystery about it.

But this exhibition – first seen in Paris – offers wonderful opportunities to explore the work of artists we shamefully know little of in Europe.

A friend who saw the exhibition in Paris thought it clunky curated. I do know what they mean, but seeing it in the wake of the Russia exhibition downstairs firms up that curation.

Gas, Edward Hopper
And even if you set aside that, this is worth seeing if only because there are so many good – and a few great – paintings here that it would be criminal to miss the opportunity to see art that rarely (if ever) has left the US before.

We went on a Friday evening and, amazingly, it was not crowded, so we had the time to stand in front of any individual work and enjoy at our leisure.

I’d recommend seeing this and the Russian Revolution exhibition, but if you can only do one, do this – the standard of the actual works on display is, overall, far higher.

* America After the Fall runs until 4 June at the Royal Academy, London.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

A Meistersinger with plenty to feast on

Ending of Act II
One of the things that makes good art great is its endurance and its openness to reinterpretation down the years: that whatever the apparent subject, it is never just about that.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is such a beast. Weighing in at four and a half hours of music –divided here by two intervals of 35 minutes apiece, allowing audience members the time to unpack the Tupperware and enjoy a leisurely picnic – it might be Wagner’s one mature comedy, but that should not be read as suggesting it lacks intellectual meat.

Indeed, one of the pleasures in watching is in noting the themes – and also how the production works with (or against) them.

The downside with such works is that they can also be open to people attempting to foist interpretations on them.

In the case of Meistersinger, there has been a determined effort by some to suggest that Beckmesser is an anti-Semitic character (who has to be defeated by an Aryan).

Nobody has ever been able to concretely prove that any character in one of Wagner’s operas is Jewish. Wagner’s anti-Semitism is a well-known fact, but that doesn’t mean that his dramas are filled with anti-Jewish tropes. 

Here, the name of Sixtus Beckmesser is thoroughly German and what he quite clearly is is Wagner’s Malvolio, right down to the thin-soled shoes he has badgered Hans Sachs to finish being his yellow stockings, cross gartered.

Why does he have to suffer defeat and humiliation? Because he’s a jealous snob; a petty guard of the petty rules that govern the Meistersingers’ guild – the sorts of rules and attitudes toward art that Wagner himself railed and reacted against.

Further, he has the temerity to imagine that he would be a suitable match for the much younger Eva, who has been promised to the winning Meistersinger at the city’s midsummer festival. The widower Sachs has the decency, self-awareness and basic humanity to know he’s too old for her, even though the idea is not unattractive.

But Wagner is not quite so simplistic: while Sachs comes to see the limits of the rules, he doesn’t represent artistic anarchy, but wants to find an equilibrium between tradition and moving forward.

The idea of wahn – one of those German words that contains a whole philosophical concept; in this case, meaning far more than simple ‘madness’ as it is literally translated – permeates Sachs’s (and Wagners) fears, yet it can be a positive force in creativity. The conflict between strict rules/convention and artistic evolution reflects similar tensions in the wider world between the status quo and change. We all face this and most of us probably take comfort in what of the former suits us and believe only in limited change. Thus understanding Sachs’s fears and dilemma is not difficult.

However, when he pays homage to tradition in the final act, it is often considered a difficult piece of nationalistic fervour. 

But historical context means a lot. When it was penned in the 1860s, Germany was on the cusp of becoming a reality, offering its peoples an increased security in the face of competing and established nationalisms from east and west in particular. It is easy now to forget that nationalism was not considered inherently negative in the 19th century: specifically, we don’t consider Italy’s move toward nationhood at the same time as anywhere near so problematic. German nationalism of the same period, though, has come to be viewed through the prism of what happened decades later and is thus treated as unique.

And it’s hardly as if we in the UK don’t like more than a spot of wildly bombastic pomp and circumstance – and not just at the Last Night of the Proms.

Hans Sachs and Sixtus Beckermesser
It’s also worth remembering that while Wagner himself might have been a nationalist in ways we think of today, he was also anti-militaristic and anti-imperialistic: today’s definition of nationalism usually includes militarism and, at a time when the UK government is planning ‘empire 2’, some on these islands at least hanker for imperialism.

On a cultural level, German-language opera existed, but German composers such as Handel and Gluck had preferred Italian, just as the court of Frederick the Great spoke French – a point referenced in Sach’s hymn to German art. That’s the context for artists striving for a German voice in art.

Royal Opera House director of opera Kasper Holten leaves the job with this new production. And it has left some to grumble – not least about how he’s changed the ending. But then, isn’t breaking the rules what this is all about?

Here, after Walther is accepted into the meistersingers’ guild and, in turn, accepts that, rather than fall into his arms, Eva storms off – presumably angered by his apparent rejection of rebelling against the rules and/or his acquiescence with the nationalism most usually perceived.

It does no damage to the whole, however you look at it.

Mia Stensgaard’s set has come in for criticism too – particularly in the second act, where something more pastoral might be welcome. This is certainly a point.

We start with something like a vaguely Deco series of boxes; angles everywhere, with staircases that go nowhere and a door like the aperture of a camera. It could remind one of Escher’s nightmarishly impossible architecture and indeed, at the climax of the second act, it becomes a nightmare. In a clever move, it only really resolves to full symmetrical neatness in the final act.

In between, during probably the slowest revolve in theatrical history, we see the back of the main set, rigged out as though it were backstage. But as Sachs plots to turn the madness to sanity, it also sees him ‘outside’ the world of which he has been such a part; a clique; an elite with its endless rules that help to preserve that elite.

Resolving the issues is what allows him to return inside, but only as he also helps to at least partially break the strangulating hold on artistic freedom. This is like Wagner’s personal manifesto – as is Sachs’s belief in democratising art by calling for the meistersinger to be chosen by popular vote and even his own determination to match words and music completely, which Sachs mentions in the libretto.

Dress is modern and includes nods to modern elites such as masons – the production poster adds business/City types as another elite.

It’s been noted that Walther is dressed scruffily, with a rock ‘n’ roll t-shirt – unfitting for a noble. But actually, it fits perfectly: the artisans in the guild are the ones for whom such things as appearance are central to their cultivation of their own sense of being an elite. An aristocrat has no need of such symbols because he’s already a member of a ‘real’ elite – though there is irony to his being the one trying to break into a very different sort of establishment.

Sachs, Eva and Walther
If Meistersinger, lacking the sturm und drang impact of Wagner’s great Romantic works, never quite hits the emotionally devastating notes of, say, the last minutes of Tristan und Isolde, it is perhaps his most consistently beautiful and melodic score.

The orchestra was in fine form under Antonio Pappano, if a tad too loud during some of the conversational moments.

Bryn Terfel might not be quite the baritone he was a few years ago, but his is an easy charisma and he brings a straightforward honesty to Sachs that is perfect for the role.

Johannes Martin Kränzle as Beckmesser deals with the comic elements delightfully, while Gwyn Hughes Jones as Walther and Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Eva, and Allan Clayton and Hanna Hipp and Sachs’s apprentice David and Eva’s maid Magdalene, all give fine performances.

The ending, with two choruses cramming the stage, is a theatrical barnstormer. The music resolves as it does at the end of the overture – and a glorious resolution it is too.

Meistersinger is a comedy in the same way that the likes of Twelfth Night is: there are laughs and chuckles, but there is much more to take away when the final chord has sounded.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

A comic book return to the world of the Dark Crystal

After a long week, getting home on a Friday evening and finding two packets from Forbidden Planet waiting on the doormat was always going to start the weekend well; matters got even better on discovered that one of them contained the opening issue of a sequel to Jim Henson’s brilliant fantasy, The Dark Crystal.

A whole 35 years after that film – and oh, how old that makes me feel – Archaia Comics and Boom! Studio have just launched a highly-anticipated comic – The Power of the Dark Crystal, with a story by Simon Spurrier and art by Kelly and Nichole Matthews.

Set a century after the events of the film saw Jen and Kira restore the crystal and, with it, the world of Thra, this is based on a screenplay for an unfilmed sequel, and opens as a strange being arrives in a blaze of fire and on a desperate quest.

Scheduled for 12 issues, it’s beautifully illustrated – and the subscription cover by Sana Takeda is a gem, with more than a nod to Brian Froud’s wonderful concept work for Henson.

The first issue comfortably lives up to to expectation with nice pacing and intriguing suggestions of trouble brewing, as the ageing Gelflings are woken from slumber by the stranger’s arrival.

Elsewhere, as we start to turn the corner into spring, it seems a fitting moment to glance back and enjoy a glut of comics that all have have winter in their pages.

Klaus and the Witch of Winter, with a story by Grant Morrison and art by Dan Mora, is Boom!’s one-off winter special that sees a cruel witch awakened from ancient slumber by global warming, leaving it for Klaus to sort things out in time for Christmas and help a troubled child.

As with volume one of the trade (which I reviewed a while ago), it’s a cracking romp, excellently done, with the sort of emotional sophistication that marks it out as particularly classy.

Dark Horse has another seasonal offering in the Hellboy Winter Special, which gives us three short stories.

The Great Blizzard – story by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson, with art by Christopher Mitten – doesn’t feature the titular hero, but is set in the 19th century and tells of a huge snow storm.

God Rest Ye Merry has a story by the same paring, with art by Paul Grist, and finds a stranger cropping up to help Hellboy and the BPRD tackle a Santa gone bad, while The Last Witch of Fairfield – story by Mignola and Scorr Allie; art by Sebastián Fiumara – sees Hellboy, Liz and Abe hunting for two missing children.

Okay, it doesnt involve any of Mignolas iconic artwork – but Hellboy has always been more than just that very stylised look – and the stories are all brief, but its fun nonetheless.

And talking of fun, Dynamite has a nice way of getting you to try a new comic: offering an opening issue for just 25c – so around the 25p mark over here.

Having enjoyed the Conan films and some of the books, plus Red Sonja, I decided to give the latters latest comic incarnation a try. Now on to the third issue, Amy Chu’s story, with art by Carlos Gomez, sees our heroine dumped from her Hyrkanian home into New York in a snow blown January 2017.

But for all the confusion caused by the modern world and the language, one thing remains a constant same for Sonja: Kulan Gath is still trouble and he knows she’s arrived in town.

You don’t look for great insights in a comic like this, but it is good fun.

If I dont mind a bit of sword and sorcery, I also rather like vampire stories. And since Dynamite was offering an identical cut-price introduction to lure you in is the first issue of a rebooted Vampirella, it would have been churlish not to give it a whirl.

The story is by Paul Cornell with art by Jimmy Broxton, and it is a cracking intro that leaves plenty to keep us wondering, even while getting things going quickly.

Who are the mysterious trio hunting for Vampirella’s tomb – and why are themselves being hunted?

Since I’m still feeling very experimental with the comics I’m trying, the 25c offer was too good to refuse. I didn’t particularly expect much, but so far, both have been a very pleasant surprise.

And with the real world offering so much to cause concern, pure escapist entertainment can feel like a life saver.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Katherine Arden's debut is a perfect Russian fairytale

The Bear and the Nightingale is Katherine Arden’s debut novel and, by the time you’ve turned the final page, you’re left with a deep hope that there will be more and that they will be every bit as good.

Texan Arden spent a year in school in France and, before beginning her degree in French and Russian literature at Middlebury College, Vermont, a year living and studying in Moscow. Since then, she’s spent further time working in France.

And all that experience is important because her book is essentially a Russian fairytale.

Set in a past where Russians still pay homage to the Khan; where Moscow is built of wood and where the new religion of Christianity still overlaps with the old – at least in the far reaches of the countryside – Arden’s tale begins with a family gathering around a vast oven for the telling of a story on a bitter winter’s night.

It is a story of winter; a story of the season anthropomorphised; a story of greed and fear and courage and love.

When the family sits back at its end, we begin to learn about them.

There is Marina – a strange woman and daughter of an equally strange and unknown bride of an Ivan in Moscow, who was married to minor noble Pyotr at her father’s behest.

They have had healthy children during a happy marriage, but then she becomes pregnant once more and, even though she’s weakened by a particularly hard winter, insists she that will give birth and that the child will be a daughter who will, in effect, continue her own philosophy.

Dying in childbirth, Pyotr is left to care for the new-born Yasya – helped by the rest of the family and Dunya, the elderly nursemaid.

But some years later, when he travels to Moscow with his sons to look for a new wife, an incident occurs that sees him travel home with a special pendant for Marina’s daughter and fear in his heart for the safety of the child.

Traditional fairy tales have little character development.

One of the things that Arden achieves here is to develop character far more than is traditional, yet to simultaneously give us something that never ceases to have the real and discernible sense of a fairy tale.

She gives the characters enough depth to satisfy contemporary readers – and to make us care – while at the same time never taking us too far from the recognisable types. Equally, this delves into philosophical realms that you can choose to pick up on or not (the nature of religion, for instance).

Arden knows her Russian folklore and it’s a knowledge that radiates throughout this book, yet never feels false or forced.

A tale of deep, deep winter, the landscape is conjured sublimely. And perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the novel is actually the language. Somehow, Arden gives her tale a linguistic feeling of age – yet without ever a false note to make you squirm and feel that it is artificial or somehow wrong.

At least one review Ive seen suggests that this is, in part, magic realism. I disagree. And thats because it’s important to stress that what this certainly is IS fantasy/fairy tale – and on those terms, it is a work of literature and wonder and needs no such literary terms to justify’ it.

I will say no more than that Arden has written a wonderful, magical book, and that I can only hope that she will not be a one-hit wonder.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Sing hits the right notes to brighten cloudy days

It’s been said of Illumination’s latest animated outing, Sing, that there is not an original element in the plot – but given that there are also apparently a limited number of plots in the world, this hardly seems a particularly strong brickbat to lob.

Indeed, it’s possible that no collection of tropes and clichés has ever been quite as much fun before.

Written and directed by Garth Jennings (who also provided some of the voices) this is, in essence, a sort of American Idol talent contest with anthropomorphised characters.

It’s a contest that only comes into being because theatre owner Buster Moon is desperate and broke, while all of the auditionees who win places in the show itself have Big Personal Problems.

Johnny the gorilla’s dad is a mobster and wants his son in the gang; Rosita the pig is mother to 25 piglets and wife to a workaholic husband who barely notices her; Mike the street musician mouse is more than a tad crooked; Ash the porcupine rock chick has a bastard of a boyfriend and Meena the elephant has the voice but nowhere near the confidence.

Meanwhile, there’s Buster’s friend, Eddie Noodleman, the son of well-to-do sheep, who’s looking for a role in life. His grandmother, Nana Noodleman, is a for star of the musical stage, and is very wealthy, very bored and downright misanthropic in equal measure.

You get the gist, don’t you?

What Jennings manages is to make this all seem remarkably fresh and funny, while you actually find yourself caring about the characters.

The use of music – there are more than 60 classic songs here and the cost of the rights accounted for a substantial part of the overall budget – is very clever. It’s one aspect that ensures this is not simply a film for children.

Watch out for the snail’s audition as a prime example.

The performances are great – who else but Seth MacFarlane could give voice to Mike: ‘Hey, Seth – fancy playing a bit of a shit character and getting to sing some Sinatra-style stuff?’

Reese Witherspoon is delightful as Rosita – and gets strong support from Nick Kroll as Gunther, the bubbly, camp German pig she’s teamed with.

Scarlett Johansson makes a great rock chick of Ash – and I really like what happens to her character – while Taron Egerton makes Johnny suitably torn between vastly different worlds (it’s all a bit Billy Elliot) and Tori Kelly does a lovely job with Meena.

Matthew McConaughey bridges the gap between con man and dreamer as koala Buster, Rhea Perlman has a nice cameo as an unsympathetic banker, John C Reilly pops up as Eddie and Jennifer Saunders goes a tad Dame Shirley on us as Nana Noodleman.

Jennings himself adds much humour as Ms Crawly, an elderly iguana with a glass eye who is Busters assistant and also gives Johnny piano lessons.

As I said – it’s a very good voice cast and if the animation seems simple on the surface, there are some very neat things going on.

The final section is particularly cleverly constructed, allowing the leads to all fully enjoy their musical moment in the sun while neatly pulling together assorted loose ends.

If Disney has Mickey Mouse, then Illumination has the Minions, and so much are they now established as the studios mascot that they even get another moment on the big screen at the start of the titles here.

Presumably, theyll be back for longer in the summer when Despicable Me 3 arrives.

We saw it late on a Friday afternoon at the end of yet another week in an increasingly surreal world: it was a perfect spot of therapy.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Not all revolutionary art inspires

Vladimir Lenin in Smolny
Picasso famously declared that “art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”.

And that is certainly one of the things that art can do, but if that’s the sort of artistic experience you’re looking for, then don’t look toward the Royal Academy’s new exhibition, Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932.

For this centenary year of the revolution itself, the RA got in quick. And while there is much to recommend a visit, there are also flaws and clunky curation to contend with.

It would help, for instance, if there was some context provided for the events of October 1917: even a meagre note that Czarist Russia was no paradise on Earth would be useful, if only to remind visitors that the revolution did not come out of some sort of vacuum.

Instead, we begin with a room dedicated to visions of Lenin and Stalin – as though the roots of the revolution itself are in the cults of the leaders alone.

The defence of Petrograd
Actually, set aside whatever your political and philosophical views of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union are, and there are some fine paintings here: Issak Brodsky’s Lenin and Demonstration from 1919 is very good: the eyes give you a sense of a powerful and charismatic character, a real human being, in marked contrast to other more iconised portrayals.

It’s light years away from the later ‘socialist realism’. And much better. Indeed, the later, idealised socialist realist paintings of agricultural workers are profound only in their blandness.

Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin’s painting of Lenin in his coffin (hidden from the world for decades because it was considered so controversial) inhabits the same world as other death paintings. Vladimir Lenin in Smolny, again by Brodsky but this time from 1930, is also excellent with its extraordinary sense of simplicity and lack of pomp.

Space Force Construction
The next room gives us works that seek to make industrialisation and industrial work heroic. It includes some brilliant photography – not least, Arkady Shaiket’s Construction of the Moscow Telegraphic Centre from 1928 – but also paintings that make workers look like robots. That might – or might not – have been deliberate, but it’s what we have in front of us.

One large canvas portrays three women in a cotton mill: not one of them has a facial expression or characteristic that marks her from the others. If this was supposed to convince people of the wonderfulness of the Soviet Union and industry, then it's difficult to see how it would.

There is some Kandinsky here and some Chagall – both of whose work is always worth seeing – and plenty of Malevich (I had enough at the Tate Modern’s 2014 exhibition, frankly, but this was new for the OH), although Landscape With Five Houses (1932) is worth seeing again.

Works like Space Force Construction (1921) by Lyubov Popova make you think positively of Constructivism.

There is an extraordinary design for a worker’s flat that has been recreated here – it still feels modern in the minimalist way that design TV shows love.

Construction of the Moscow Telegraphic Centre
However, it’s slightly surreal to view the displayed figurines in porcelain – revolutionary versions of Royal Doulton shepherdesses. The printed fabrics one does expect – but not these.

A wall in one room displays a series of portraits of cultural giants such as Prokofiev and Shostakovich, who pushed the boundaries of their art forms – yet there is with no real suggestion as to how we should view these in the wider context of the exhibition.

Given some of the mutterings on social media, by the sort of people who declare themselves experts on something without having actually seen it, it’s possible that the curators simply felt too wary of any backlash if they penned something that looked overtly positive, and have left such sections almost blank in terms of explanations. 

We have adverts, food coupons that are designed way beyond the strictly utilitarian and examples of works that celebrate the pre-revolutionary ‘Mother Russia’.

The final room is a disaster: there are some interesting works, but we end up with a logjam of viewers because there is (yet more) film to watch and the only way to see it is from a narrow passageway.

Adjoining this is the almost-final exhibit – a black box where you can sit and watch pictures flash by of people killed by the Soviet regime. Its black boxness seems to invoke the religious nature of Mecca. 

Tatlin's glider
Before this, though, Tatlin’s glider rises above much else on display – perhaps because one can view it without trying to understand or impose onto it anything overtly political. Displayed beautifully, on it’s own and turning gently beneath a dome, it conveys a sense of hope.

The Russian Revolution offered hope to many – including to artists. But the hope died as time passed: as counter-revolution caused war and suffering, and as the regime responded with a clamping-down on creative thinking and anything that might be consider individual.

The Defence of Petrograd, by Alexander Deineka (1928) is an epic canvas that sees blank-faced men head to the front to defend the new Russia. Above, on a gantry, wounded men return.

Alexander Samokhvalovs painting of a shot putter has a sense of being extraordinarily modern, though painted in 1933.

The Shot Putter
Much is pure propaganda, but its also evidence that propaganda can be good art.

Film footage throughout includes Eisentein’s October. We face the question of whether the Odessa steps is propaganda? Well, yes. But  is it good art too? Absolutely! Just as Leni Riefenstahl’s films are. Will seeing works by such artists ‘convert’ you? That’s up to you and you alone.

Just as you can appreciate great Western religious art without becoming religious, so you can see this exhibition without taking on a specific political view (pro or anti).

However, theres an extraordinary sense of modernity and vision throughout the exhibition that would make it difficult not to mourn the betrayal of the spirit of the revolution.

Its a fascinating view – albeit a flawed one. Inevitably, it’s hard to see it through anything other than the prism of one’s own political leanings, popular perception and history books, but if you can manage to push beyond, there are rewards here – as well as things to deeply irritate.

Some of what is on view is poor. But some is very good indeed.

You have until 17 April to decide whether for not you wish to see it.