if you loved the pseudo-Victorian animated designs that punctuated the Python sketches you should like the miscellany of spoofy revivalism in the current Victoriana exhibition at Guildhall Art Gallery, which responds to the steampunk fashion for dressing up in corsets and top hats (all the better if worn together). The day I visited, Guildhall Yard was enlivened by a bustle-clad woman and a guy in circus-strongman garb, bending metal bars.
Curator Sonia Solicari admits that it's hard to define ‘Victoriana’ and ‘Neo-Victorian’ as a contemporary aesthetic. 'This is not a coherent movement to which artists subscribe – there is no manifesto. Each work has been included for its ability to reimagine the 19th century, rather than recreate it.' So the selection is eclectic not to say jokey. Each exhibit has something to do with today's notions about the nineteenth century: stuffed foxes backing a stuffed velvet armchair; mechanical moths fluttering round a flickering light-bulb; flounces on a low-cut dress mimicked by octopus tentacles for hair and eyes on an Ingres-style portrait. But beyond the jokes?
Altogether, amid a god deal of avowed kitsch, some dialogue between the pieces exists, notably with narrative-based works like Paula Rego's well-known images of Jane Eyre and Yinka Shonibare's photo sequence based on the Picture of Dorian Gray, with the artist in the eponymous role. William Morris fans may like to ponder on Ligia Bouton's diptych featuring WM as superhero pulverising Owen Jones - a rather doubtful premise but exquisitely drawn (and on view last year at Danson House, nearby Red House).
[in respect of Ligia Bouton, it is interesting the number of contemporary artists from David Mabb through Grayson Perry to Jeremy Deller and maybe more, who respond to WM in relation both to his design work and his political arguments. Not many other long-dead Victorians provoke that response...]