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24 November 2008

New artists anyone?

By Harry Williams

Sons and Lovers

It must be hard being the son or daughter of a famous writer, particularly when you inherit all their old papers. Bonfire or book: this is the dilemma faced by David Rieff, son of the late Susan Sontag, and Dmitri Nabokov, son of Vladimir; both have gone for the second option.

On the BBC’s Newsnight Nabokov stated why he has decided to publish his father’s last novel, entitled ‘The Original of Laura’, written on 138 index cards as he lay dying in a Geneva hospital. “He would have reacted in a sober and less dramatic way if he did not see death staring him in the face”, said Nabokov fils, defying his father’s wish for the cards to be burnt. The novel, whose central characters are reputedly an unattractive, suicidal academic called Philip Wild, and his “wildly promiscuous” wife Flora, is said to echo some of the themes of ‘Lolita’ (1955). It will be published next year.

The first day of next year will also see the release of Sontag’s ‘Reborn: Early Diaries 1947-1964’, published by Penguin. Since her papers had already been sold to the University of California and would inevitably be published, “I would rather do it myself”, stated Reiff. Extracts of the journals were published in the
New York Times in 2006, and reveal that Sontag, unsurprisingly, was an exceptionally curious teenager, both sexually and intellectually.

The Dripping World

It took €18m, 100 tons of paint and 13 months to paint this ceiling – not the Sistine Chapel, but the dome of a building which is (supposedly) held sacred in this secular age, the Hall of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Unveiled on Wednesday, the 16,000 square foot ceiling is the work of Catalan artist Miquel Barceló, who is perhaps best known in London for his extraordinary collaboration with choreographer Josef Nadj at the Barbican in January, in which they attacked and sculpted two enormous slabs of clay.

The genesis of the piece was accompanied by the usual griping about wasted money, particularly from the Partido Popular, the Conservative opposition in Spain, although the work is far from some bland euro-Dome. As well as providing a site for international dialogue – “a metaphor for the agora, the first meeting place of humans, the big African tree under which to sit to talk”, it stands firmly in the Gaudí, Dalí, Miró, tradition of Catalan weirdness (it was inspired by the very Daliesque image of “the world dripping toward the sky”). It looks like the strange rock formations of Montserrat, the sacred mountain near Barcelona, just after a severe strafing from a squadron of paint bombers.

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No doubt an image of the ceiling will be appearing on the website Europeana, the Borgesian online library whose project is to digitise the whole of European civilisation. Encompassing books, maps, paintings, manuscripts, music, films, everything from the Magna Carta to a recording of Mancunian dialect, this EU initiative was launched on Thursday in Brussels. Unfortunately the site crashed within a few hours, but only due its immense popularity – 10 million hits an hour.

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The campaign to keep ‘Diana and Actaeon’ in the country continues, boosted on Wednesday by a £10m donation
from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF). A letter to the Observer from Sir John Tusa, chairman of the University of the Arts in London, and its rector, Nigel Carrington may, however, have dampened the fire a little. “We would like to issue a warning and a plea to those who are rallying support for the Titian campaign. Please do not forget today’s young artists who are embarking on their artistic careers”. If only some former young-artist could join the campaign. No-one ever objected to diamond skulls and pickled cattle leaving the country. ‘Diana and Actaeon’ can now be seen at the National Gallery until December 14th.