This is what you will hear at the National Gallery’s blockbuster Monet and Architecture exhibition, which opened to the public this week:
“Can I just…”
It is the sound art-lovers make when gathered en masse in a confined space full of eye-popping pictures by one of the finest painters to have ever picked up a brush.
Call it the Monet Mumble: the polite but insistent whispers uttered by well-dressed ladies and gentleman making their way around packed galleries.
Much has been made about the amount of money the National Gallery is charging punters for the privilege of seeing its Monet show while having their toes trodden on (I was on the receiving end twice, and the apologetic perpetrator once).
If you have the audacity to go for the ‘Admission Only’ option and ignore the explicit and assumed ‘suggested’ £2 donation, tickets purchased online for those over 11 years old cost £18 during the week and £20 at the weekend (they are £2 more if bought in the gallery). That works out at around 25p a painting (there are 78 in the show).
Value for money, you could argue.
Particularly when you take into account the ever-increasing costs incurred by museums when putting on such ambitious, ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ exhibitions.
That said, there must be scope to be a bit more innovative and flexible on pricing when planning a sure-fire box office smash, which will be too pricey for too many (e.g. students, families with teenagers, the currently unemployed, low paid workers).
The gallery has clearly thought about the visitor experience.
For the first time, there are no wall texts beside the paintings, just a number, which you then refer to in the small booklet that comes with your ticket.
The upshot is rooms full of earnest, bespectacled faces peering down at this bijou publication like race-goers studying the formbook at the Grand National.
From time-to-time we look up and cross-reference text with picture, before an “excuse me” and move on.
It is a better system than having mini essays by pictures, which causes large huddles of people to gather to the side of paintings like giant barnacles. But I’d prefer a half-way house that had a sparse wall caption stating the artwork’s date and title, and a booklet for the details.
As for the show itself, well…
It is very good.
Although the title is misleading. Monet had no formal interest in architecture.
Canaletto painted architecture.
You could argue Ed Ruscha paints architecture.
But not Monet.
His concern was with the immaterial.
Monet only ever really painted two things, both of which are as ephemeral as a snap-chat. His subjects were light and air.
“Other painters paint a bridge, a house, a boat” he once said,
“I want to paint the air that surrounds the bridge, the house, the boat – the beauty of light in which they exist.”
Yes, there are buildings in every one of the paintings on show at the National Gallery.
Sometimes – as is the case with his spectacular depictions of the medieval façade of Rouen Cathedral – the same building many times over.
But Monet is not exploring its architectural characteristics.
For him it is a superficial motif: a compelling surface on which light falls to create an all-enveloping “atmosphere”.
He painted the same façade from the same spot dozens of times in the early 1890s.
Not to show the intricate details of every nook and cranny, but to capture how the changing light and weather conditions physically altered the ‘impression’ of what he saw.
“Colour, a single colour, lasts a second, sometimes three or four minutes at most. What can one do, can one paint, in three or four minutes?” He said to the dealer René Gimpel.
Monet was the ultimate Impressionist; an on-the-spot improviser reacting to Nature’s every move, however small.
Buildings were useful to him in terms of providing a compositional structure, a consistent reference point, and a means of evoking mood. As you can see in Snow Effect at Giverny (1893), which is an utterly wonderful, beautifully rendered psychological depiction of a rural landscape covered in snow.
It is not a literal account of what was before the artist, nor is it of what he felt about what he saw (that was Van Gogh’s shtick); it is a sensational interpretation of the experience of looking at that particular moment: a manifestation in oil paint on canvas of Monet’s senses reporting back live from the scene.
His best paintings, of which there are several examples in this show, have an almost electric sense of immediacy.
Whether it is Normandy, the Netherlands, the Mediterranean coast, or Venice – he takes you there in an instant.
If you can afford the ticket price and don’t mind crowded spaces (there’s still plenty of room to see the paintings and no sense of being rushed through), I would thoroughly recommend you see this show.
You will meet a Monet you know and one that you don’t.
You’ll see how he progressed from Courbet-type realism in his early twenties into a dare-devil picture-maker who changed the way we look at our world.
Nobody thought about art in the way he did:
“When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have before you, a tree, a house, a field or whatever. Merely think, here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact colour and shape, until it gives your own naïve impression of the scene before you.”
I just saw Love Simon and I’m in awe. It’s an amazing movie. It’s exactly what we need right now and my mom and i cried pretty much the whole second half! So happy i have the support system I have, so happy a movie like this exists , love who you are. Happy to be bi. #ThxSimon
— looney lovegood (@spacekidreilly) March 31, 2018
One fan said they are “so happy a movie like this exists”, while another wrote: “Hearing a cinema full of people clapping when a non-hetero couple kissed made me feel so accepted.”
Becky used to work as a clinical psychologist, specialising in working with teenagers. While she saw a lot of people from the LGBT community, she stresses that none of Love, Simon was based on any of her patients’ experiences.
“That would be so unethical,” she says. “Everything about my former career is off limits.
“But because of my background, I got to a place where I had a pretty thorough understanding of what some of the issues some of the people in that community were dealing with. For personal and professional reasons, that community is important to me.
“One of the ways I try to explain my purpose for writing the book is that it’s like a love letter to them. The stuff that so many of them have to go through… I’m so in awe of those teens – they’re just the coolest, most awesome people.”
Love, Simon is on general release
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Very sad to hear that the great director Miloš Forman has passed away. He had a tremendous filmography that documented the rebel heart and human spirit. I have seen 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' enough times to be able to silently mouth along with the movie. RIP. pic.twitter.com/4QwOHL7tS4
Milos Forman won the Oscar for Best Director twice, and yet he was still one of the most under appreciated filmmakers of the 20th century. RIP Milos, and thanks for the films that will live on for generations to come.
Very sad to see that the great Miloš Forman has died at 86. A brilliant director who made only about a dozen feature films, every one of which is worth revisiting. Hair, Amadeus, Cuckoo's Nest–an indelible legacy.
Forman was born in Czechoslovakia in 1932 and became an orphan when both his parents were killed in Nazi death camps during World War II.
He made his name as a leading figure in Czech new wave cinema in the 1960s, but moved to the US when Russian troops invaded in 1968.
His first feature in the US, 1971’s Taking Off, was a critical if not commercial success. But the follow-up, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, firmly established him in Hollywood.
It was one of the biggest box office hits of 1975, taking more than $100m, and became only the second film in history to win Oscars for best picture, director, actor, actress and screenplay.
The film starred Nicholson as a man battling the system in a psychiatric establishment and was based on Ken Kesey’s novel.
“To me it was not just literature but real life, the life I lived in Czechoslovakia from my birth in 1932 until 1968,” Forman once said.
“The Communist Party was my Nurse Ratched, telling me what I could and could not do.”
The director followed that with Hair and 1981’s Ragtime before Amadeus, a look at the life of 18th Century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart through the eyes of his rival Antonio Salieri. Its Oscars included best picture and best director.
After 1989’s Valmont, he made The People vs Larry Flynt, with Woody Harrelson cast as the porn publisher.
Three years later, Forman cast Jim Carrey to star in Man On The Moon, the biopic of comedian Andy Kaufman.
A mission to take children out of poorly-run orphanages could be something from a Harry Potter plot.
But that is the goal of a charity founded by JK Rowling.
The charity, Lumos, works with governments in countries like Moldova and Ukraine to reform their education and child protection systems.
But it is a tale of steady bureaucratic reform rather than daring adventure.
Lumos, which the Potter author founded after reading an article about children being kept in caged beds in an orphanage, is on a mission to end the placing of children in poor-quality institutions by 2050.
Potter fans will notice that the charity is named after the spell used by witches and wizards to bring light to dark places.
And Lumos wants to challenge some perceptions.
Poor quality care
It wants people in Europe and the US to think twice about sponsoring or supporting orphanages in other countries, unless they can be sure of what is being provided.
It wants to make a distinction between “high-quality residential care” and institutions where children are “arbitrarily separated from their parents” and where they might be isolated from other schoolchildren and the wider community.
The charity warns that in some orphanages many of the children will not be orphans, but separated from their families because of poverty and discrimination.
There are concerns about children being exposed to risks of abuse and trafficking – and there are warnings that children can have worse education and life outcomes than if they attended inclusive schools in their communities.
“A lot of people do not know there are millions of children in these institutions, and most of these children have parents who want them,” says Lumos chief executive Georgette Mulheir.
“Most people think they are orphans who need looking after, they do not know the serious harm that institutionalisation does to children’s development.”
At least eight million children live in orphanages and residential institutions, yet more than 80% are not actually orphans, says the charity.
One of Lumos’s first successes was to help to take children out of institutions in Moldova by reforming the country’s education system to make it more inclusive.
It is currently working in Ukraine, which has more than 100,000 children in institutions, to develop an inclusive education system and reform the child protection system.
This involves training teachers, adapting the curriculum, and changing existing rules which hold back some children – for example, adapting exams so that children with learning difficulties can progress to the next school year.
In another comparison to Potter, the advocacy of children has been an important part of the campaign.
Warning to donors
Before Moldova’s government agreed to reform its education system, a boy from a mainstream school made an impassioned speech to the country’s education minister.
“It was great to watch this young man wagging his finger at the minister, saying ‘we mean it, we expect you to do this’,” says Ms Mulheir. “It had quite an impact on her.”
Ms Mulheir says the problem of children in inappropriate institutions is not confined to less developed countries – these places still exist in some of the richest countries in the world.
“People would be quite shocked to learn about the situation in Belgium and to a lesser extent France, where there are still institutions for babies even though all of the evidence shows this seriously harms early brain development,” she says.
Last year, a report by Lumos warned that charitable givers from the US who believed they are helping orphans in Haiti could be funding places where children were at risk of abuse.
More than a third of Haiti’s orphanages are funded by donations from abroad.
“One of the things that Lumos has taught me is be very, very careful how you give,” JK Rowling said after the report’s launch.
She said “very, very well-meaning donors” are “inadvertently propping up a system that we know, with nearly 80 years of hard research, shows that even a well-run institution, even an institution set up with the best possible intentions, will irrevocably harm the child”.
Lumos is now expanding its work into new countries, including Colombia.
“We are really confident that by 2050 at the latest there will be no more children in institutions anywhere in the world,” says Ms Mulheir.
Global trade has seen its most rapid growth in six years, says the World Trade Organization’s annual analysis.
But the positive news could be put at risk by tit-for-tat tariff wars that have broken out, according to the head of the WTO, Roberto Azevedo.
Broader global tensions could also see trade suffer.
Last month, President Donald Trump unveiled plans for a 25% tariff on US steel imports from countries such as China and a 10% tariff on aluminium.
That followed an announcement earlier in the year for tariffs – import taxes – on washing machines and solar panels.
The president said that battles on trade were good and “easy to win”.
China responded by imposing its own tariffs on US goods and has complained to the WTO and threatened legal action, claiming unfair treatment.
“The strong trade growth that we are seeing today will be vital for continued economic growth and recovery and to support job creation,” said Mr Azevedo, the WTO director-general.
“However, this important progress could be quickly undermined if governments resort to restrictive trade policies, especially in a tit-for-tat process that could lead to an unmanageable escalation.
“A cycle of retaliation is the last thing the world economy needs.”
He said that countries should show restraint and settle their differences “through dialogue” and collective action.
China has already announced retaliatory action against the US move, announcing tariffs of up to 25% on US imports such as pork, fruit, nuts and wine.
Despite growing fears over a global trade war between the world’s two largest economies, trade volume growth in 2017 hit 4.7%, the highest level since 2011.
Stronger world growth and increasing levels of consumption have driven the rise, which has helped, for example, the UK economy, where exports are valued at more than £600bn a year.
WTO economists said that 2018 should see trade growth expansion of about 4.4%, well above the post financial crisis average of 3%, though still below the 4.8% average seen in the 1990s.
The WTO annual trade report said risks were now “tilted to the downside” because of the uncertainty over tariff policy, which could affect business investment and that trade growth would slow to about 4% in 2019.
It also cautioned that central banks were looking to tighten monetary policy – for example, by raising interest rates – at a faster pace.
The Bank of England has already said that interest rates are set to rise more quickly than previously thought, with the next rise expected by the markets as early as next month.
A storm is brewing as clouds gather over Bristol Port, with the rain set to fall on tens of thousands of vehicles parked in the port’s car compounds, ready for export by ship, or destined for UK dealerships.
It is an apt backdrop for the UK automotive sector’s current predicament.
“Brexit has derailed the industry,” says Sarwant Singh, senior partner and global head of automotive and transportation at consultants Frost & Sullivan.
“The uncertainty causes people not to buy cars.”
The number of cars sold in the UK dropped 5.7% in 2017, according to industry body the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders, and ratings agency Moody’s predicts a further 5.5% fall this year.
There has been little respite from foreign markets, with exports slipping 1% last year.
Each year, about 80% of the vehicles built in the UK are exported, so smooth international trade relations are vital for the automotive sector’s continued prosperity.
But these days, the relations are as choppy as the sea in the Bristol Channel.
“All of Europe is exposed,” says Justin Cox, director of global production at consultants LMC Automotive, “but some plants are more exposed than others, and it so happens that several of those are in the UK.”
Then there’s China, the world’s second-largest car market. Trading relations with China are already complicated, and may well be subject to even greater complexity in future.
“A UK-China free trade agreement will be neither easy nor clearly advantageous for the UK,” says Bruegel, a European think tank that specialises in economics.
Part of the issue, it says, is that the UK would like to land better trade deals with China when it leaves the bloc than the ones the EU already has in place. But being smaller, the UK will be in a weaker position during trade talks, so there are no guarantees China will be prepared to offer better terms.
On top of this, UK automotive trade with China – and other fast-growing markets such as India, Brazil and Russia – could suffer, depending on the terms of a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, Mr Singh says.
That’s because the UK might not be able to piggyback on the EU’s existing bilateral trade agreements with third countries, including those entered into since the Brexit vote with Canada and Japan. Instead, it would face years of protracted trade talks with dozens of countries.
Getting a good Brexit deal is also important because of the interdependence of European automotive companies.
“The motor industry has taken advantage of the EU’s single market as much as, perhaps more than, any other industry,” says Mike Hawes, chief executive of SMMT.
As a result, EU customers buy about €15bn ($18.5bn; £13bn) worth of British-made cars per year, accounting for some 53% of the UK’s vehicle exports, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA).
Conversely, EU manufacturers deliver 81% of the cars imported by the UK, to the tune of about €45bn, a trade imbalance that Brexit supporters hope will give the UK leverage during trade talks.
At the same time, about 80% of the parts and components used to build cars in the UK are also imported from the EU, while 70% of the parts and components made in the UK are exported to EU countries.
“Any changes to the deep economic and regulatory integration between the EU and the UK will have an adverse impact on automobile manufacturers with operations in the EU and/or the UK, as well as on the European economy in general,” the ACEA says.
Hence, both the UK and the European car industries are keen to see a final UK-EU deal that retains frictionless trade in the long-term.
“Anything short of single market membership could be a problem for the UK,” says Simon Dorris, managing partner at Lansdowne Consulting.
Free trade is indeed key to future prosperity, not just within Europe but beyond, according to Prof Patrick Minford of Cardiff University, who chairs Economists for Free Trade, a group of pro-Brexit economists.
Its much debated paper, From Project Fear to Project Prosperity, suggests fears of rising trade barriers for carmakers after Brexit are misplaced.
But Parliament’s cross-party Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee is pessimistic, recently warning that “there are no advantages to be gained from Brexit for the automotive industry for the foreseeable future”.
The UK prime minister’s desire for free trade is shared by the global motor industry more generally.
Executives are nevertheless pragmatic, and accept that although international trade is governed by rules policed by the World Trade Organization, free trade is rarely a reality.
Trade-distorting subsidies and a variety of measures, such as regulatory barriers, internal tax measures, and intellectual property rights, still impede the free flow of goods, even when trade agreements are in place, according to the European Commission.
The EU, for instance, will not import cars unless they meet EU safety and emissions requirements.
Moreover, trade agreements are generally conditional. For instance, cars exported from the EU must be predominantly made within the EU to be allowed free entry into other markets.
Whatever level of access UK-made cars get to markets around the world after Brexit, the manufacturers ultimately have to try ensure that their vehicles will be popular with overseas buyers.
Mr Hawes says that this is not always easy, citing the fact that the UK’s best-selling car is the compact Ford Fiesta, whereas the most popular vehicle in the US is the large Ford F150 pick-up truck.
Consequently, there are reasons to question whether the US market is the most natural one to focus on for UK manufacturers, which tend to produce cars that suit British and European consumers, he observes.
“So it’s also about producing the right car for the market,” he says, pointing to how Honda is producing the Civic in Swindon for global markets. “They have shown it can be done”.
New Zealand has said it will ban new permits for offshore oil exploration as it attempts to move towards a low-carbon future.
The announcement has been lauded by climate groups but industry groups have vociferously opposed such a move.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it would help “protect future generations from climate change”.
The move will not affect 22 existing permits, which could even extend to mining permits in the decades ahead.
Ms Ardern, who was voted in as New Zealand’s leader last year in a tight race, campaigned heavily on climate change prevention and says the decision is a responsible step forward.
“Transitions have to start somewhere and unless we make decisions today that will essentially take effect in 30 or more years’ time, we run the risk of acting too late and causing abrupt shocks to communities and our country,” Ms Ardern said on Thursday.
“We have been a world leader on critical issues to humanity by being nuclear free… and now we could be world leading in becoming carbon neutral.”
But industry groups and some politicians have slammed the move, saying it will hurt local jobs, local businesses, and the nation’s economy.
New Zealand’s $186.4bn (£130.9bn) economy relies most heavily on agriculture, together with manufacturing and tourism, but it is estimated that the oil and gas industry contributes about $1.84bn; (£1.29bn) every year.
New Zealand Oil and Gas, a leading energy firm, said it had not been warned of the move and that it was a sudden change of policy for the centre-left Labour government.
Ms Ardern’s government is backed by the country’s Green Party, a tie-up some analysts say is less than business friendly.
VW chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch said in a statement that Mr Mueller had done “outstanding work” for the company.
The statement continued: “He assumed the chairmanship of the board of management in the fall of 2015 when the company faced the greatest challenge in its history.
“Not only did he safely navigate Volkswagen through that time, together with his team, he also fundamentally realigned the group’s strategy.”
‘Man of action’
However, Mr Mueller was seen by critics as having failed to refocus the group’s portfolio of brands, a key pillar of “Strategy 2025” to transform the company into a leader in cleaner cars after the diesel scandal.
Some analysts cheered the appointment of Mr Diess.
“Diess is a man of action, he is the most plausible choice at VW to lead the group into the next phase of its transformation,” said Nord LB analyst Frank Schwope.
VW also announced that works council executive Gunnar Kilian would replace Karlheinz Blessing as human resources chief.
And the chief executive of Porsche, Oliver Blume, will join the main VW board.