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Art at the London Olympics

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Nowhereisland will be dragged to the southwest coast of England as part of an art installation. Image: Max McClure / Courtesy Situations

Andrew Mckie:

It may become harder and harder to believe amid the increasing hype during the run-up to the Olympic Games, but there will be people who don't have much interest in the five-ring circus going on this summer. That group won't be confined to the beleaguered residents of the United Kingdom—spare a thought, too, for the poor husbands, wives, children and parents dragged to London by sports-mad relatives.

There is, however, one fortunate side effect of the fact that the Olympics have become an enormous commercial operation that would have been unrecognizable to the Ancient Greeks. It is that they are now surrounded by a huge range of diversions for those who cannot stand sports, or who simply fancy a change from watching people running about and throwing things. Music, dance, film, theater and literature all feature in what is grandly called the Cultural Olympiad (london2012.com/cultural-olympiad), but one of the most interesting and notable components is in the field of visual arts.

This reflects the fact that art is a major draw, not only for visitors to Britain, and London in particular, but for its citizens: more people visit museums and galleries each year than attend league football matches, the nation's most popular sport. In part, that is down to the strength of the great national and provincial collections, and, in recent years, to the growth of blockbuster exhibitions. But it is also evident in the popularity of British contemporary art.

It is this—the kind of large, specially commissioned installation work featured in biennales and public spaces—which for the most part dominates the culmination of the four-year Cultural Olympiad. . .one of the most popular works will be the contribution of the West Midlands, a gigantic puppet of Lady Godiva that will eventually make its way to London. . .

Oh, call me unenthused. I don't want islands dragged south, forests chopped down in Scotland or giant puppets in the streets of London.

Why not dive into the cosmic orb of St Paul's; create intimate connections with Gainsborough, Constable, and Turner at the National Gallery; drift like a swan through Burlington House rooms, feeding on art and science; and gallop up and down Wallace Collection staircases in search of jousting armour (fashioned in medium-carbon steel, air-cooled, etched, and adorned with gold, copper alloy, leather, velvet, gold braid and silk).

Or, you could find Henry V in his new armour at the Globe, one of hundreds of performances which will make all London and perhaps all Britain a stage.

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I think the performances sound exciting, and I am hoping to catch Ben Ainslie's sailing artistry on TV, and I might even change my mind about Steering Lady Godiva, pictured below in a photo by Andy Moore.

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But then again, I might not.

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