Apollo Magazine

The Rake’s progress: last week in gossip

Gilbert & George RA; Giles Coren, art historian; and Mary Beard takes aim at the Vatican Museums

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Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

Gilbert & George have been elected as a Royal Academician. Yes, you did read that correctly: a Royal Academician. The announcement marks the first time in the RA’s 248-year history that two people have been appointed as a single artist. The provocative duo, apparently, will share a vote between them at Academy meetings. But will the one-member rule stick when it comes to official dinners? Perhaps, in order to avoid such complications, they might be best sticking to Mangal 2 in Dalston.


Mark Twain is routinely referred to as a ‘founding father’ of American wit. Alas, his sense of humour didn’t always stretch that far. This month’s Atlantic magazine carries an excerpt from Rebecca Romney’s Printer’s Error: Irreverent Stories from Book History, giving an account of a lewd printing prank that left the author incensed.

During the printing of the first American copies of Huckleberry Finn, Romney writes, a mischievous printer scratched a few lines onto the crotch of a figure in an illustrated plate, making it appear as though Uncle Silas was greeting Huck with an erect penis.


Mary Beard is not happy. Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, the academic and broadcaster recounts the unholy details of a recent trip to the Vatican Museums, a visit which she described as a ‘somewhere on the spectrum between sub-optimal and ghastly’. Searching for a particular bust of Caesar, she wrote, was nigh on impossible due to the institution’s lack of detail on its website. ‘It strikes me that the Vatican Museum authorities have no interest in letting you know where you actually are’, she complained. As for the museums’ approach to crowd control: ‘There’s something close to criminal in sending thousands upon thousands of visitors past some of the greatest works of art in the west and not creating conditions in which they can SEE them meaningfully’.


Giles Coren, best known as a restaurant critic and scourge of Times subeditors, is set to become the face of televised art history as co-presenter of Fake! The Great Masterpiece Challenge.

Writing in The Times, the journalist and broadcaster admits that he is something of a neophyte when it comes to the fine arts. ‘Personally, I always thought of art criticism as literary criticism for thickos’, he writes. ‘After all, why spend a month reading Bleak House when all an art history student has to do is stand in front of a canvas for a couple of minutes, tilt her head a bit and then go, “Meh, not so much,” and move on to the next one?’ Lucky his co-presenter is an art historian, then.

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