All you need is lovability

Observations on ny-lon

One of my favourite insults is the one levelled at the film critic Barry Norman: "He looks like he's been up all night combing his hair." I thought of it when I read that Tate Britain's "Turner Whistler Monet" exhibition had broken all records for ticket pre-sales, and there were plans to keep it open 24 hours a day. Staying out all night looking at paintings by Turner is about as racy as leaving the top button of your anorak undone.

As the 28,000 people with advance tickets form orderly queues, they probably no more than glance at the work of the revolutionary sculptor Sir Anthony Caro in the gallery's main hall. Caro, the first sculptor to abandon plinths for his work, was a radical long before the Chapman brothers. If you want a genuine iconoclast, listen to Caro. "I don't think you can ask, 'Is life worthwhile?' I don't think you can ask, 'Is art worthwhile?' You can hardly ask, 'What is art?' and you certainly can't ask if it's worthwhile. You've just got to accept that's what we do and we're going to do it as best we can."

"Turner Whistler Monet" costs £10, while Caro's retrospective at Tate Britain is free. "I insisted," he says. "There's no point otherwise; everybody has got to be able to see it." Did the organisers agree because they feared that if we had to pay we might not turn up at all? Caro's work is metal with sharp bits. It's so much less lovable than Monet's. And lovability is apparently what it's all about.

We should have guessed how things were going from the reaction to the fire at the Momart warehouse in 2004. There was an outbreak of sniggering when we discovered that work by the likes of Tracey Emin had got what it deserved. The Tory politician Theresa May chortled on Any Questions that the ashes would presumably form part of a new exhibition. When asked if she had heard of the late Patrick Heron, many of whose magnificent abstract paintings had also gone up in smoke, she admitted she had not.

The late Arthur Miller, who once found himself "wondering about Broadway's relevance to the life of this world now", would have smiled ruefully to hear the interview about his death on the Today programme. On and on it went, with poor old Nicholas Hytner, director of the National Theatre, trying to talk about Miller's work while Sarah Montague, the presenter, kept grinding out questions about Marilyn Monroe. Hytner, who directed the film adaptation of The Crucible, pointed out that he wasn't really there to talk about Monroe. "Completely understood," laughed Montague. By then, the interview had run its time.

Fashion and music were the old ways to be bold. But don't get your hopes up. A bashful teenager from Devon, Joss Stone, has just won Best Urban Act at the Brit Awards. And look at the nonsense wafting down the catwalk in the New York shows this month. The trend to look out for is the "debutante dress". Marc Jacobs offered full-length velvet and satin. Michael Kors (the designer who said that "if you look like you have to dress for the weather, you look poor") thinks big taffeta skirts are the new thing. Apparently debutantes are in because there's a dynasty safely back in the White House.

Those who turned out for the fashion shows in New York could escape by going to Central Park for the unveiling of the new installation by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The park is now studded with 7,500 metal gates billowing with orange fabric. I've always admired Christo for the sheer daftness of wrapping up part of the Australian coast and smothering the Reichstag in fabric. But the New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who noisily promotes the arts while cutting the arts budget, said it all. He thinks The Gates will generate at least $80m for the city, and compares the new work to three of the biggest artistic money-spinners of all time: the Sistine Chapel, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Gone With the Wind.

I was beginning to despair when I spotted a portly woman in her sixties tottering along the street. She looked fantastic, in eye-popping cerise pink layers, with Calpol-coloured hair and more make-up than Sir Ian McKellen as Widow Twanky. It was Zandra Rhodes getting into a rusting turquoise hatchback. Not for her the comfy rewards of success. I've no idea whether she can afford to buy a Mercedes or not, but the point is that she hasn't. At an age when women wear sensible shoes and clothes to make them invisible, she looks ridiculous. And thank God for that.

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