Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 is 'transcendent' and fun

Jul 10, 2012

The National Gallery has brought together the Renaissance master and a live peep show

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What you need to know
A new exhibition at the National Gallery in London brings together three of the best-known Titians hanging in UK galleries – and juxtaposes them with newly-commissioned works by living artists.
The exhibition has been organised as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. The three paintings by the Renaissance master all depict Diana, the Roman goddess of hunting, and the modern works also deal with her legend.
The three modern artists – Mark Wallinger, Chris Ofili and Christopher Shawcross – were asked to make sets and props for a trio of Royal Ballet premieres which open at Covent Garden from Saturday, and versions of their set designs form part of the exhibition.
The exhibition runs from July 11 to September 23.

What the critics like
Not since the late 18th century have Titian's three Diana paintings – Diana and ActaeonThe Death of Actaeon and Diana and Callisto – hung together. Titian's alchemical mastery means they are "transcendent wonders ... glowing like jewels in a black box", writes Rachel Campbell-Johnston in a four-star review for The Times. "You only have to poke your head into the first room of this show to know why you came."
Louise Jury of the Evening Standard focuses our attention on the "real nude woman" bathing in a specially-plumbed-in bathroom constructed by Turner-prize winner Mark Wallinger for the exhibition. Gallery-goers become voyeurs as they look through peepholes at a series of women who occupy the bathroom in two-hour shifts, all really called Diana. Jury quotes the artist: "This whole building is the history of the male gaze. It's full of nude women but this time they have a real naked woman."
Best of all, writes Jonathan Jones in The Guardian: "This exhibition is free and fun." When Jones was just 19, he saw The Death of Actaeon for the first time and it "leapt out" to him as something "sensual and real" he could relate to. We should go along and fall in love with the Titians at the heart of the exhibition – two of which, Jury points out, have recently been bought for the nation at a cost of £100m.

What they don't like
The Titians are wonderful but Chris Ofili's paintings, though they might work well as a backdrop for the Royal Ballet's new performances, are only "thinly descriptive", says Jury. In any case, writes Jones, Titian doesn't need to be made relevant or sexed up with modern additions because "in any sense that matters he is a living artist". Jones would rather the National Gallery had staged a major exhibition of his work – and dispensed with the modern additions.

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