artist led organisations in the world, retains bothits nimbleness of attitude and contemporary relevance – no permanent home and no real rules other than independence of mind and spirit. The globalisation of the contemporary art world means that it is now very much at the mercy of the conforming power of capital and thus needs, more than ever, to look to expand its creative gene pool, to draw on ever wider and more various experiences of the world and the rich, transformative power of the visual arts if it is going to survive in any meaningful form. That The London Group also recognises this role for itself is made very evident by the extraordinary (unpaid) commitment and energy they put, each year, into The London Group Open. This year, the 83rd, involves some 79 selected non-member artists being invited to show with the members over two separate exhibitions, this month and next at The Cello Factory . Needless to say it’s a richand innovative brew covering a quite astonishing range of styles and media – no house styles and, for once at least, no heavy hand of curation and critical correctness – just artists working withother artists and seeing what happens. Nicholas Usherwood How far can a work of art be understood through the life and secret mind of its creator? It is a popular practice that offers some tantalising possibilities. Is Artemisia Gentileschi’s ‘Susanna and the Elders’ an expression of her sexual vulnerability, for example? Or is Vincent van Gogh’s final painting, ‘Crows Over Wheat Fields’, a bleak expression of his impending suicide? These readings can become something of a runaway train: is the Mona Lisa really only a merchant’s wife? Or is she actually based on Leonardo da Vinci’s mother? Or his student and gay lover? Or himself? However biographical or psychological readings of art can provide that little frisson that brings a piece to life and provides a clear access point for first-time viewers. Ben Uri Gallery and Museum seeks to do just that with an upcoming exhibition of late works by Marc Chagall. ‘A Farewell to Art: Chagall, Shakespeare and Prospero’ comprises 50 works that Chagall produced in 1975 to illustrate William Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. The play is about Prospero, a duke-turned- magician, marooned on a magical island with his daughter. The exhibition proposes that Chagall, a refugee from his native Russia, is likely to have understood the emotions of the exiled sorcerer. The character also has links to Shakespeare. At the end of the play, Prospero declares he will put aside his “rough magic” and “drowns” his book of wizardry. ‘The Tempest’ is believed to be Shakespeare’s final complete play and Prospero’s breaking of his staff is read frequently as an expression of the author putting down his pen. Chagall was 88 years old when he illustrated ‘The Tempest’. Perhaps, the gallery suggests, he too felt some sympathy with the ageing sorcerer as his career drew to a close. It is the first time the rare limited portfolio has been exhibited in London, and for a new group of viewers the suggestion is sure to influence the understanding of these works – delightfully so. Frances Allitt Old age can be a big problem for art societies; often founded in the heat of rebellion at the older generation’s lack of sympathy for their new ideas, they themselves, all too soon, tend to forget what it was they were objecting to and become intensely conservative in outlook. Re-inventing yourself, keeping fresh, expanding your horizons may well be important responses to the process of course but, more significant, perhaps, is not becoming institutionalised – the Royal Academy is a classic example even now, for all its protestations to the contrary – and there are plenty of others just like it. All of which helps to explain why, and how, The London Group, at 104, one of the oldest CODA from left J ames Faure Walker ‘Walking in Tresant’ The Cello Factory Marc Chagall ® illustration from ‘The Tempest’ © ADAGP, Paris and DACS London Ben Uri Gallery & Museum W ise years Smoke screens NOVEMBER 2017 GALLERIES 45