Friday. 6/12/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Robert Bound

Christmas market sweep

So Christmas is Christian? Well yes: clue’s in the name. Christmas tends to give you a warm, fuzzy feeling too? You bet. And Christmas is quite camp, am I right? If done correctly, of course. Now if only the “Bavarian” Christmas market – currently sprawled across the best part of London’s Trafalgar Square like an office-party drunk – shared these key seasonal qualities. Yesterday I got stuck in the market’s infernal crapness on the way to the National Gallery and can report that the diabetes-in-a-cup hot chocolate, mulled wine courtesy of Chateau Donkey Piss and the bored, cold-looking sellers made the Turners and Monets even more beautiful and meaningful than you could possibly imagine.

The sort of Bavarian Christmas markets that don’t require inverted commas – the ones in Munich, for instance – come from a lineage of events whose vibe is a bit more hand-carved nutcracker than sulphurous “bath bomb”. These things are a bit tough to replicate – snow might make the brown portacabins of Trafalgar Square a little more seasonal but, really, steer well clear and head straight for the paintings. As luck would have it this weekend, Monocle is hosting its very own Christmas market at our London headquarters – with a Finnish Father Christmas, reindeer to nuzzle and a tombola with prizes that are almost, almost works of art. So much better for your elf.

Geopolitics / Serbia

From Belarus with love

This week’s meeting between the leaders of Belarus and Serbia didn’t gain the sort of global traction reserved for Nato’s 70th-birthday bash but it offered a fascinating insight into the relationship between some of the military alliance’s oldest political foes. Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko has been attempting to persuade Serbia to ditch its ambitions to join the EU in favour of Russia’s alternative, the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). “You won’t regret it,” said Lukashenko at a press conference in Belgrade. The Serb leader, Aleksandar Vucic, is eager to develop stronger trade ties with EEU members, such as Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. But he is also cautious about cosying up to the EU’s economic rival. At the press conference, Vucic praised his country’s relationship with Belarus – but it’s clear that Serbia is still hedging its bets.

Art / Hong Kong

Broader palettes

The two-decade-old Sigg prize exhibition opens at Hong Kong’s M+ Pavillion tomorrow. The annual prize has relocated from Beijing for the first time this year and heralds a generational shift in Chinese art. Swiss businessman and Chinese-art collector Uli Sigg, who founded the prize in 1998, says that the new location will give Chinese artists the “visibility they deserve”. The work of six artists will be on display until April, when the winner will be awarded HK$500,000 (€58,000). This year’s displays range from installations to video and are more experimental than usual. Traditional themes of Chinese identity or the Chinese diaspora have been replaced by explorations of music, gender and religion. Suhanya Raffel, executive director of M+, says the choice of artists from diverse backgrounds demonstrates how contemporary art is evolving and how cultural boundaries are becoming more fluid. It makes for a more thought-provoking experience for the audience too – at a time when freedom of expression is not always a given.

F&B / Turin

Turning the tables

The story of Turin’s past can be read in its stately squares and buildings but market forces are pushing its time-tested cafés to the brink. The Associazione Caffè Storici e Salotti Sabaudi di Torino, as well as being a mouthful, is the result of the 10 oldest institutions (from the 18th to the 20th centuries) clubbing together to fight back against the threat of developers. These independent businesses, which have long supplied royalty with sweet treats and offered a daily refuge for locals, are highly prized but also expensive and tricky to maintain. For the full story, pick up a copy of issue three of Monocle’s Winter Weekly newspaper series, which hit newsstands this week, in which we report from Turin’s golden-age coffee houses – social spaces that need to be saved and savoured.

Art / Miami

Size matters

Art fairs continually need to innovate if they’re to keep collectors keen and Art Basel Miami Beach is a case in point. This year the US’s foremost art fair is debuting new section “Meridians” (referencing the fair’s geographical mix of Northern and Southern American art), which features works whose main shared characteristic is their large size. Art Basel aficionados will recognise the project as the equivalent of the popular “Unlimited” display back in Switzerland, which consisted almost entirely of monumental works. The paintings on show at Miami’s “Meridians” are not quite so enormous – perhaps this could mean that, as well as museums and installations, these artworks might appeal to wealthy private collectors. And if we were to describe the type of artwork that gallerists view as perfect for Miami it would be exactly this: big, bold and oh so colourful.

M24 / The Urbanist

Comedy and urbanism

Laughter is often the best way to deal with complex issues so it’s no wonder that it can make city living more agreeable. This week we explore how humour can be found in the built environment.

Monocle Films / Copenhagen

Christmas shopping in Copenhagen

We go on a jaunt around the Danish capital to find the best – and sharpest – retail outposts for all your stocking-filler needs.

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