Celebrating the Diamond Jubilee With Art, From Avant-Garde Royal Portraits to a Crowdsourced Photo-Mosaic
LONDON — The UK is in full Diamond Jubilee swing. To celebrate the 60th year of Queen Elizabeth II's extraordinary reign, the country is putting on celebrations that make the Royal Wedding of last year look like a quiet affair. Yesterday, Her Majesty led a flotilla of 1,000 boats down the Thames in the biggest pageant on the river for 350 years (the Millennium Bridge, linking Tate Modern to St. Pauls, was closed to allow modern-day Canalettos to immortalize the moment). Today, 10,000 VIPs, royal charities staff, and a few members of the public who won a ballot will enjoy a regal picnic designed by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal and served in Buckingham Palace's gardens. The palace will also host a gigantic concert tonight, featuring national treasure Sir Paul McCartney, as well as non-national treasure Stevie Wonder. And for those without a royal engagement, street parties are mushrooming from Aberdeen to Margate: There'll be bunting, Pimm's by the bucket load, and pouring rain — sure signs of a true British celebration.
In short, this is epic. Here are a few suggestions for what the art lover might see or do amid all the hullabaloo:
— A visit to the National Portrait Gallery is must. The "Queen Art and Image" exhibition brings together some of the most striking pictures of Her Majesty made during the last six decades. The focus here isn't the familiar type of well-tamed, borderline soporific official portraiture, but the Queen as a muse for artists as varied as Andy Warhol, Lucian Freud, Gilbert & George, Thomas Struth, and Gerhard Richter" target="_blank">Gerhard Richter.
— If your thirst for royal portraits hasn't been fully quenched (and you want to find out what kind of art the Queen truly favors), head to the Royal Academy's John Madejski Fine Rooms for a display of pieces by Royal Academicians elected during the early years of Her Majesty's long reign, including works by Jean Cooke, Frederick Gore, and Ruskin Spear. (The Observer's Laura Cumming has also put together a great list of "the 10 best… portrait of queens," from Hans Holbein the Younger's "Queen Christina of Denmark" (1538), to Warhol's "Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom," 1985).
— If the people's touch is what you are after, Towner in Eastbourne has put together a double-decker bus-sized photo mosaic portrait of Her Majesty made with 10,000 family pictures sent by members of the public. "The People's Monarch" will be on view until June 10th.
— Finally, the Jubilee is a perfect opportunity to brush up on our history knowledge, and the Telegraph has selected "60 crowning glories," what they describe as "the 60 best-of-British achievements of the New Elizabethan age." On the art front, they include some things that are indeed worth celebrating: the invention of design-for-all, with Sir Terence Conran's first Habitat store in 1964; the birth of the world's biggest performing arts festival, Glastonbury, in 1970; and the opening of Tate Modern in 2000, now the world's most popular art gallery, welcoming 4.5 million visitors each years. A very full reign indeed.