Written by Ellis Ian Fields
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Friday, 27 July 2012

image for Metamorphosis: Titian 2012. National Gallery. Review Do you want to watch me wash?

Proserpine Gainsborough-Halfwit visits the Sainsbury Wing to see some contemporary resonses to Ovid's poetry alongside the Venetian great...

It can be soooo dull looking at nudes with boyfriends, so I wasn't looking forward to it when Dicky Featherstonehaugh-Tomsk insisted he wanted to come with me to this.

Dicky's all right, but he can come across as a bit, you know, pervy.

But when I talked to him about the three Titians at the start of this free show - the National's recently-acquired Diana and Callisto, Diana and Actaeon and The Death of Actaeon - he behaved himself quite well and didn't look too closely at all the bared bosoms on display (there are a lot).

(I say it can be dull looking at these picture with a chap in tow, and I understand the thing about 'the male gaze' and all that but Queen Isabella must have been a bit of a prude, mustn't she? Having these pictures covered up when she passed through the room they were in.)

Dicky even got a bit excited by the robot arm thing, Trophy, by Conrad Shawcross - he fancies himself as something of an engineer. Well his father is something in aerospace or something and Dicky reckons he's in line to take over one day. Daddy says I shouldn't be too hard on Dicky: "You might need to fall back on a rich engineering type when you're finished with all this arty-farty nonsense."

Shawcross's piece is an odd response to The Death of Actaeon - the arm has a lamp on the end, and it moves around apparently examining a wooden antler. You see? Diana turned Actaeon into a stag. Trouble is the stag was then ripped to shreds by Actaeon's own hounds. Bit severe, if you ask me, just for accidentally seeing you with your kit off! Well, yes, I would be miffed if any of the boys came into the bathroom while I was showering or something, but I wouldn't turn him into a deer and let the dogs have him. But he'd better take me for a nice dinner!

Mind you, that Diana was a bit of a vicious goddess. The other story in these Titians is of Callisto, one of her nymphs. Zeus, it seems, disguised himself as Diana to get close to Callisto then had his way with her and made her pregnant. When Diana discovered Callisto's condition she was overcome with rage and banished the poor lass! Still, she wasn't torn apart by her own hounds. Got off lightly, I suppose.

Anyway having had a poke around I went to look at some film of the dances created by the Royal Ballet to sit alongside the exhibition (there's also poetry and set and costume designs). I left Dicky looking at the robot.

After about half and hour it dawned on me he was still there, so I went to tell him he owed me lunch. Well he wasn't there.

Know where he was? In the part of the exhibition created by Mark Wallinger.

Wallinger's idea is based on Actaeon discovering Diana naked while she's bathing. He's created a bathroom. The audience can only see what's going on in there by peering through peepholes, like a keyhole or a broken bit of opaque window. And what's in there is a naked woman washing. Apparently there are several women employed to take turns as the model - but they are all really called Diana.

Ooh! That would be weird, wouldn't it? Sitting there having a bit of bath, knowing there may be people watching, but wondering if anyone actually is. And what are they doing while they watch?

Well, I don't think Dicky was up to anything untoward, but he pulled his hands out of his pockets pretty sharply and looked a bit flustered when I tapped him on the shoulder.

I got champagne for lunch.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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