Art beat;Features amp; Arts

12th November 1999 at 00:00
Now is the time to gather Bloomsberries. London's Tate Gallery plays host to The Art of Bloomsbury, a major exhibition of work by Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry and Duncan Grant, who were key figures in the pre-First World War British avant-garde, and later part of the Bloomsbury Group, a coterie of 1920s intellectuals, which included novelists EM Forster and Virginia Woolf, biographer Lytton Strachey and economist John Maynard Keynes.

Connected by family, marriage or student life at Cambridge University, they were unconventional in their lifestyles and daring in their aesthetic views. They werealso among the earliestBritish culture-vultures to appreciate and popularise modern European painters such as Matisse, Gauguinand Cezanne. In 1910Roger Fry organised thefirst post-impressionist exhibition in London.

Looking at their efforts to revive British culture with a splash of Continental modernism, you can't help applauding them - even if it's hard to avoid the sad truth that most of their work is not a patch on the Continental masters who inspired them.

The strongest paintings by Bell, Fry and Grant are their informal portraits and quiet still lifes, genres which illustrate the social history of the time. Numbering nearly 200 works, the exhibition is impressively comprehensive and attractively laid out, and includes furniture from the Omega workshops, which Fry opened in 1913, decorated screens and graphic book jackets by Vanessa Bell.

The Bloomsbury Group may not have been first-class painters, but the tangles of their love affairs, infidelities and intrigues offer a wonderful example of how art and biography interact. With a free teachers' pack, focus sheet resources, plus A-level study days (details 0171 887 8765), this exhibition is a valuable addition to our knowledge. It runs until January 30. Tate Gallery: 0870 842 2233.

After looking back at the Bloomsburys, it's refreshing to look forward to the next century with the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (November 17 to 28), which this year shifts its attention from the ageing avant-garde to younger composers who will head new music in the new millennium. Some, such as Finland's Magnus Linberg and Kaija Saariaho, may already be familiar to festival regulars, others - such as the young Dutch and Chinese composers - are making their debuts.

Now in its 22nd year, the festival continues to be innovative, with residencies this year by two fine British ensembles, the young Mancunian group Psappha, and the Arditti String Quartet. Other highlights include Georges Aperghis, a maverick of music theatre, and a celebration of the work of Galina Ustvolskaya, the reclusive 80-year-old Russian composer.

For young people, the festival includes three projects: the "Junior Composers Scheme" (open to all secondaries in Kirklees); "Meet Me at Errollyn Wallen's", a songwriting project for young Afro-Caribbeans; and "Oblique Strategies, Concrete Results", in which students from Shelley high school, Huddersfield, will create their own piece of music, led by composer Sophy Smith and using Brian Eno's set of suggestion cards.

In addition, the festival's opening event - John Adams's multicultural "earthquake romance", I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky - is performed by London's Southwark Playhouse, which offers Kirklees students the chance to perform with them. The company will also run a series of workshops for 18 to 25-year-olds. Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival: 01484 430528.

During this month and next, laminated children's art will be exhibited on some London buses and on the Docklands Light Railway. This is the Schools Mobile Art Exhibition, part of "Hidden Art", an annual showcase for east London artists and designers.

The project began in October, when children from schools in Hackney, Islington and Tower Hamlets visited buildings of architectural interest - including the Hackney Empire, Spitalfields Market and St Bartholomew the Great church - in the area and made sketches, which they later worked up into paintings. Each year this project produces 600 pieces of artwork. Who knows, there may even be a budding Picasso among them. Details from Faith Muir at Hackney Education Business Partnership on 0181 356 7434.

Aleks Sierz

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