A YEAR AT THE ART OF IT ALL! Joe Riley Looks at the Highlights for Art and Literature Fans CULTURE COUNTDOWN 2 DAYS TO GO

Article excerpt

Byline: Joe Riley

THE UK's biggest contemporary visual show, celebrity appearances by the likes of Yoko Ono, Seamus Heaney and Doris Lessing, and prestigious new prizes help mark out the 2008 calendar in art and literature.

The big picture comes courtesy of artist Ben Johnson, a specialist in cityscapes around the world, including Chicago, Hong Kong, Zurich and Jerusalem.

His take on Liverpool, using a palette of 600 mixed shades, is being carried out with the aid of 30,000 photographs.

It is the most detailed painted image of the city ever undertaken.

It will show Liverpool from a supposed vantage point 600ft above the Mersey - every detail of every building, painstakingly exact.

The 128 sq ft canvas covers a sweep from Airfield to Toxteth and will be completed in situ at the Walker Gallery, where it goes on show in May.

Yoko Ono's 2008 contribution - a set art work and performance - will form part of Now/Then, a much wider commission to mark the redevelopment of the Bluecoat. The UK's oldest arts centre - at the heart of a city with more galleries and museums than any outside London - reopens at Easter.

But the biggest visual arts attraction of the year will, by definition, be the fifth Liverpool International Arts Biennial.

It is expected to pull in more than 500,000 visitors in its own right and features more than 40 commissions - many of them purpose-made for public spaces throughout the city.

As is now the norm (following a realignment of years) the biennial will incorporate Britain's most prestigious painting prize (with a pounds 25,000 first prize) selected from entries for the 25th Liverpool John Moores Exhibition.

This now feted event, run in alternate years, and begun in 1957 by the Lit-tlewoods founder, first helped launch the career of a then young David Hockney A new Liverpool Art Prize, already featuring a shortlist for painting, sculpture, audio-visual and photography, will be run in the spring.

And the autumn will see a biennial-hosted open competition, Made In Liverpool, for emerging film-makers.

There are a number of high profile visiting exhibitions.

The biggest of these is the first comprehensive UK show dedicated to the work of Viennese painter and designer Gustav Klimt.

The Klimt exhibition, at Tate Liverpool from May, will be set alongside work by his personal friend, the architect Josef Hoffman.

It is set to complement a weekend of Viennese balls at St George's Hall accompanied by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

There is also a show by the leading contemporary Swiss artist and sculptural video specialist Pipilotti Rist, at Fact.

A major attraction at the Walker Gallery will be Art In The Age Of Steam, exploring the inspiration provided by the coming of the railways to great artists of the 19th and early 20th century.

Among the 100 works will be paintings, drawing and prints by Van Gogh, Monet and Manet.

The printed word receives top billing in November with The Shipping Lines Festival run by Liverpool University and the Bluecoat.

The interactive programme of books, authors and readings (emulating the "lines" of international knowledge and experience which the big trading fleets once gave Liverpool) will feature, among others, Seamus Heaney, Carol Ann Duffy, Jorie Graham, Doris Lessing (last year's Nobel Prizewinner for literature at 88), Monica Ali, Philip Pullman and Liverpool's very own Paul Farley and Roger McGough.

Roger's inclusion is also a reminder of a strong poetry bill during the year with Poetry In The City (readers include Levi Tafari, Mohammad Khalil and Eleanor Rees).

The now well-established and politically vibrant Writing On The Wall Festival takes place at various venues during May.

Sefton's Festival Of Writing is booked for September and a new Bluecoat Literature Festival will be launched in October. …