The Forbidden Gaze @ Compton Verney

Artemis has always been my classical goddess of choice. Haughty huntress and evasive hauntress of the cypress groves, her feral forest spirit surpasses her Mediterranean origins to chime with our earthy native lore of Arthurian chivalry, forest sorcery and celtic myth. Her enigmatic chastity puts both Athena's stiff, urban erudition and Aphrodite's pink-tipped, pearlescent petulance in the shade; queen of metamorphosis, she continually shape shifts to avoid becoming the static, statuesque subject of men's ravening gaze. Not for her some glistening, clitoral self-presentation in a shell: the moon maiden is the most untameable and unattainable of the squabbling dieties. titian

It's no suprise that country house art gallery Compton Verney chose her most famous legend as the hook for its Diana and Actaeon exhibition about 'the forbidden gaze'.  Historically, interpretations of the tale of the Theban prince, who oggled the goddess's ablutions only to be turned into a deer and mauled by his own hounds, have veered from brilliant explorations of voyerism and sexaulity by the likes of Titian and Brueghel, to  softcore daubings of bum-baring, breast-soaping, bestiality-fearing beauties that upstanding Renaissance citizens could slap without shame on their dining room wall.

Contemporary interpretations of the myth prove to be equally diverse thanks to Compton Verney's typically creative curation, which includes a gamut of  thematically linked works from Robert Mapplethorpe's powerful Statue Series to Picasso's slyly funny 347 Series etchings. Photography proves a particularly effective medium to explore the conept of menacing, mesmerising muse; in The Stag’s Room (Diane), Karen Knorr thrillingly contrasts the frank female gaze with woman's naked vulnerability in a masculine wood-panelled world, and Gregory Crewdson's cinematic, gothic set-pieces provide a powerfully pertinent exploration of wilderness, sex, meaningful looking and meaningful looks. Least inspiring are Thomas Ruff's manipulated internet nudes in the final room, which look flat and thin and lacking in the contexts and contrasts which are so strong in the other works on display.


There is a deer park abutting my mother's house ('abutting' gives the satisfyingly ambiguous suggestion that it could be hers. It's not). God, but they're strange creatures, with voices like whales and the hedonistic, hirsute violence of over-hormonal Glaswegain teens. If there's still a sense of awe to be found in our overdiscovered world, they're a pretty good start. And they taste darkly divine; while you're in Warwickshire for the exhibition (it finishes this week), be sure hit up nearby(ish) Deddington Market for a slice of ancient, gamey, blood-rich sweet Actaeon pie.