New Excuses To Visit Old London

A visitor is silhouetted against a projection of an iris from a character in the new film 'Cars' at the Pixar: 20 Years of Animation exhibition at the Science Museum in London. The exhibition contains 300 original drawings, paintings and scluptures from Pixar's animated films including Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and runs from April 1 to June 10, 2006. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
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It's all about great faces. Shakespeare's enigmatic face. Michelangelo's exquisite faces. Mr. Potato Head's fat bald-headed face. These are some of the attractions of London's museums and landmarks in summer 2006.

Below are some highlights of the spring and summer season in London, with links to the museum Web sites for additional information. Most offer advance ticketing via the Web — a good way to avoid spending a lot of your vacation standing in line with a whole bunch of other Americans.

"Searching For Shakespeare"
The National Portrait Gallery
Through May 29

This exhibition brings together most of the meager but fascinating remnants of the life of the poet. Stratford church registry entries mark his christening, marriage and death. A fragile script from a play never performed has hand-written additions that may or may not be his handwriting. But the biggest draw is a different kind of legacy: a few of the hundreds of portraits that allegedly show us what William Shakespeare looked like.

Click at left on "Shakespeare Or Not?" to see the six portraits in the exhibition.

If you miss the special exhibit, the "Chandos" portrait, at least isn't going anywhere. The National Portrait Gallery is one of London's most enjoyable institutions. Devoted to great people more than great art, it's organized as a walk through England's history, from King Richard III to Sir Paul McCartney.

For more, see The National Portrait Gallery.

"Rembrandt 400"
The National Gallery
Mid-June Through December 2006

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the birth of the greatest Dutch painter of the 17th century. The National Gallery has enough of his work and that of his followers to fill two galleries for this celebration.

If you get tired of Dutch masterpieces, you'll find plenty of others in this immense treasure house of European paintings, which stands right at the edge of Trafalgar Square (and adjoins the National Portrait Gallery).

For more, see The National Gallery.

"Michelangelo Drawings"
The British Museum
Through June 25

This exhibition brings together representative works across 60 years of Michelangelo's long and turbulent creative life. Some are being seen together for the first time since the Renaissance genius died and his studio was dismantled more than 400 years ago.

Once you've seen this, go get lost in the British Museum. It's the nation's greatest collection of historical art and artifacts. If you wander long enough you'll run into the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone, among other things.

For more, see The British Museum.

"Pixar: 20 Years of Animation"
The Science Museum
Through June 10

It's no coincidence that the exhibition "Pixar: 20 Years of Animation" is arriving just before the opening of Pixar's latest animated movie, "Cars." Still, the show was a thriller in New York and now in London, with 300 original drawings, paintings and sculptures from films including "Toy Story," "Monsters Inc.," "Finding Nemo" and "The Incredibles."

If the kids get tired of Mr. Potato Head and company, toss them into the ocean to swim with sea turtles and dodge the tentacles of a giant octopus. "Deep Sea 3D" is now showing in the museum's IMAX theatre.

For more, see The Science Museum.

2Medieval Palace
The Tower of London

Sometimes, something new happens even at The Tower of London. Even the best construction shows its age sooner or later, and this one began in 1066 on the orders of William the Conqueror. It was built on top of yet earlier remnants of Roman fortifications.

The latest news is the restoration and reopening of the Medieval Palace, one of the many buildings on 18 acres surrounded by stone walls that comprise The Tower. The palace is still as damp, drafty and cold as it was when King Henry III shivered here in 1216. But it's beautiful again, with the type of decorative detail that Henry and his successors might have appreciated.

Here's a tip you won't get anywhere else: Take a look in the bedroom corner at the medieval version of a toilet.

For more, see Tower of London Tour.

Tate Britain
Anything but the "Tate Triennial 2006"
After May 14

Congratulations. You've missed the latest Tate Triennial.

Every three years, this showcase for contemporary British artists was guaranteed to get London buzzing, at least with indignation and horror. This time, it was just depressing.

Example: "Untitled" by Alan Michael. Gallery description: "In this painting the repeated depiction of jeans is a borrowed metaphor for 'dressing down' as a fashion statement. For Michael the subject of the work is not necessarily what is actually portrayed in each painting, instead he is interested in the 'structure of the exchange between audience and artist.'"

Oh, for the days when Damien Hirst showed his "Mother and Child Divided," which consisted of a dead cow floating in formaldehyde.

It's enough to make the hippest art lover run screaming for the pre-Raphaelites, which is fine since the Tate has a lot of them. Not to mention the centerpiece of this museum devoted to British art: the Turner Bequest. The Tate has a vast array of paintings by 19th century Britain's greatest landscape artist, whose late work spookily leaps ahead a few generations into abstraction.

For more, see the Tate Gallery.

By Carol Kopp