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Jan. 22, 2007 

Despite continuing diplomatic tensions between Russia and Britain, "From Russia: French and Russian Masterpieces 1870-1925" is set to open at the Royal Academy of Arts in London this weekend, Jan. 26-Apr. 18, 2008. Boasting 120 Russian and French artworks on loan from four major Russian museums, the exhibition features Henri Matisseís The Dance (1910) and other works from the legendary collections of Moscow textile merchants Ivan Morosov and Sergei Shchukin.

The show opens with a section comparing Russian and Western realists, matching works by Ilya Repin and the Russian Wanders group with French Barbizon school and salon paintings. It ends with a selection of Suprematist, Constructivist and other Russian modernist works. A fourth section features works by Russian artists in the circle of theatrical impresario Sergei Diaghilev.

The exhibition is organized by Norman Rosenthal and Ann Dumas of the Royal Academy and Mattijs Visser of the Museum Kunst Palast in DŁsseldorf, where it has been on view all fall. The show is sponsored in London by E.ON UK, the countryís largest power and gas company. †

Londonís National Gallery has opened its latest exhibition of proposals from contemporary artists for the vacant plinth in Trafalgar Square, built in 1851 and empty until the art program began in 1998. Tracy Emin has suggested a sculptural group of vigilant meerkats be placed on one end of the column, while Antony Gormley proposed putting live people on the plinth, one hour at a time, 24 hours a day -- though only after surrounding the platform with protective netting.

Jeremy Deller has designed a bombed-out car called The Spoils of War (Memorial for an Unkown Civilian), while Yinka Shonibare has designed a giant Nelsonís Ship in a Bottle -- Admiral Nelsonís HMS Victory -- with sails made of African fabrics. The other artists in the running are Anish Kapoor and Bob and Roberta Smith.

Easily the most outrageous installation of the London gallery season is Santiago Sierraís recent exhibition at Lisson Gallery of 21 large minimalist-style slabs of dried human feces, collected by Indian "untouchables" in Delhi and Jiapur and provided to Sierra by Sulabh International, an Indian social service organization. An estimated 1,000,000 people in India, mostly women, are involved in the manual removal of human feces from latrines and sewers, making them vulnerable to tuberculosis and other diseases.

At Lisson, however, the fecal matter was sanitary, as it was mixed with Fevicol, an agglutinative plastic, and allowed to cure for three years, turning into a harmless, earth-like material. According to the gallery, "the work captures the history and present condition of Indian society." Telegraph art critic Richard Dorment was more annoyed than impressed, titling his review "The Unmistakable Stink of Gratuitous Guilt" and suggesting that Sierra has effected his own brand of "compassion fatigue."

Martin Creed
has received the Duveens Commission for 2008 from Tate Britain, a site-specific installation for the museumís spacious upper level, due to be unveiled on June 30, 2008. The commission is sponsored by Sothebyís. Last yearís winner was Mark Wallinger, whose State Britain installation recreated an anti-war protest originally installed outside Westminster Palace (and snared him the Turner Prize). The Duveens Commission comes with a purse of £3,000.

One peculiar bit of American culture is making its way to London this month, as Hamiltons Gallery has opened an exhibition of color photographs devoted to the "Ultimate Fighting Championship," the mixed martial arts bouts that have become popular on cable television. Titled "Octagon," the photos are by Kevin Lynch, who published a book of the same name late last year with powerHouse and Zuffa, LLC, with a foreword by David Mamet and an essay by Dave Hickey. The 400-page book, with over 800 images, is priced at $2,500 (and $7,500 for a deluxe edition). No word on the cost of the photographs themselves.

Richard Green Gallery
has launched a website devoted to smaller works by painter Ken Howard, a member of the Royal Academy. The paintings of London, Cornwall and Venice are all priced at £5,000 or under, and can be purchased directly on the web using a credit card. An impressionistic Venice scene measuring 10 x 8 in., for instance, is £3,250, while a ca. 16 x 12 in. painting of a model in the studio is £4,750. The website can be found at

The James Hyman Gallery in London plans a retrospective exhibition of photographs by Linda McCartney, the late wife of former Beatle Paul McCartney. The show is organized by Paul and his daughter Mary McCartney with the art dealer, and marks the tenth anniversary of Lindaís death. The photos include shots of Paul with John Lennon, portraits of musicians such as Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, landscapes and domestic subjects.

The photos are newly made platinum prints, offered for sale in editions of 25, and authenticated with a certificate signed by McCarthy. The show is scheduled for Apr. 24-June 7, 2008.

Architect Frank Gehry has been commissioned to design the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in Londonís Kensington Gardens, which is scheduled to open next summer in time for the London Architecture Festival. The pavilion, which operates as a cafť during the day and as a venue for lectures and other events in the evenings, is Gehryís first building in England. Previous pavilions were designed by Olafur Eliasson, Rem Koolhaas, Alvaro Siza, Oscar Niemeyer, Toyo Ito, Daniel Liebeskind,†and Zaha Hadid. For more details, click here

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