Visual Art Rivals Music For Supremacy In London 2012 Festival Programme

Thomas Keane takes a look at the visual art highlights announced today for the London 2012 Festival – the summer climax of the Cultural Olympiad and perhaps ‘the largest cultural celebration in our lifetime’

‘Once in a lifetime’ is a phrase that one hears considerably more than once in a lifetime. And such serial usage surely threatens to undermine the exclusivity claim intended by the phrase.

Of the many culprits responsible for this dilution, it is the organisers of the London 2012 Olympics who are the most guilty. And among this zenith of meaning-depleting hype masters it must surely be the directors of London 2012 Festival – climax of the Cultural Olympiad – who gain first prize.

This morning, as Festival Director Ruth McKenzie, Chair of the Cultural Olympiad Tony Hall, Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt, and Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, took the stage, they were once again up to their old tricks. But with one major difference.

Gone are the days of piecemeal announcements, as this morning the London 2012 Festival organisers revealed their full hand of programmed events, giving substance to erstwhile rhetoric, and the hope that it may indeed live up to its ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ promise.

12,000 events and performances at 900 venues, featuring over 25,000 artists from all 204 participating Olympic nations. 130 world premieres and 85 UK premieres. Over 10 million free tickets and opportunities to take part. Impressive indeed. And while it looks as if music is to be the cornerstone of festivities, visual arts are not far behind in importance.

Among the highlights in this respect is what Ruth McKenzie describes as ‘one of our most thrilling experiments’ – a series of collaborations between fashion designers and artists to create a special one-off commission, encouraging them to ‘go beyond their own personal best’ by ‘sharing their skills’ for ‘something they would never do alone, and will never do again’. Artists such as Cerith Wyn Evans, Gavin Turk, Jeremy Deller, Mark Tichner,Charming Baker and Jess Flood-Paddocks will be paired up with designers that include Paul Smith, Giles Deacon,Hussein Chalayan, Matthew Williamson, Stephen Jones, and Mary Katrantzou, with their final creations to be displayed at the V&A.

Today the organisers emphasised the ‘pop up’ nature of much of the Festivals happenings (‘a festival directors worst nightmare’, jokes McKenzie), details of which we will just have to wait for. But among these we have been warned about Jeremy Deller’s full size ‘bouncy castle’ version of Stonehenge will ‘pop up’ (hopefully not blow up) across various surprise London locations, and BMW’s ‘art cars’ that will be secretly dotted across the capital, featuring designs by artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. Yoko Ono’s ‘Imagine Peace’ message will also appear across a range of surprising locations.

Besides artworks right at the heart of thing in the Olympic park by artists such as Grenville Davey, Keith Watson, Monica Bonvicini, and Carsten Nicolai, the rest of the UK not be missing out. Take, for example; Anthony McCall’s vertical spinning column of cloud vapour rising from the surface of Merseyside’s Wirral Waters; the forest in the Scottish Borders that will be transformed into a football pitch by Craig Coulthard; the multimedia responses to to Suffolk’s Cold War nuclear testing island Orford Ness; an installation across the breathtaking Giant’s Causeway by Hans Peter Kuhn; and what promises to be Europe’s largest ever street art festival See No Evil curated by the legendary Inkie in Bristol.

And what about Martin Creed’s self-explanatory planned performance; ‘all the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes’? You know what? For once this might well just be – in the words of Ruth McKenzie – ‘the largest cultural celebration in our lifetime’.

Photo: Thomas Keane

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