But is it Art? - London Galleries
October 2004©Nigel Spiers
Saturday breakfast – bacon & eggs, croissants, The Independent open at the Arts and
Entertainment section and its time for a dropaculcha. Let’s see what’s on:
The Tate Liverpool has Yoko Ono’s "My Mummy was Beautiful" – photographs of a breast
and vagina. The locals refer to it as "Fanny by Gaslight".
The National Portrait Gallery has a new video portrait of David Beckham by
international artist Sam Taylor-Wood. Beckham was filmed sleeping, after an all
nighter in Madrid. The catalogue says "Simply lit from one light source this
rich, painterly film presents a reverential and vulnerable image of this
international football icon."
The good news is he doesn’t get to say anything and there is no sign of Victoria.
Carl Michael von Hausswolff’s (apparently a bit of an up and comer) "Red Mersey" is
a video record of the crossing of the famous Liverpool river. Von Hausswolff uses
a scuba diver to film the crossing at night. The result is 40 minutes of
swooshing noises and red-tinged murk that according to the catalogue "delves into
the very material of the river as a means of grappling with the Mersey’s
"So what do you think my dear" I say "the Tate Modern or The National?"
The Tate Modern gallery is in a huge, refurbished 1920’s power station on the
south bank of the Thames with a splendid view across to St Pauls cathedral. You
walk into a cavernous space to be confronted by a shiny black 30 foot high metal
sculpture of a very sick looking spider. There is a permanent collection of some
of the 20th century heavyweights including Jackson Pollock, Henry Moore, Roy
Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. However they are not typically their best efforts
or most famous works. The rest are mostly installations and this is where the
problems really start.
You gaze at the three blocks of grey stone set in the middle of a room, duly
roped-off from curious little fingers and guarded by a very bored looking man in
uniform. You try to remain positive and say helpful things like – "he’s got a nice
finish on that stone ain’t he luv?".
Then you stare at it more closely hoping that its apparent vacancy is just an
illusion. A mild headache develops as self doubt sets in and you wonder if it’s
just that you are not quite up to it artistically.
Over the Thames, on the new Millenium Bridge, and then a 30 minute stroll down the
Strand to The National gallery and what a relief! It’s like being reacquainted with
an old and very dear friend. The perfect environment for viewing treasures; never
too crowded, never too hot and that reverential quiet of shared heaven. The bit I
like best is bathing in one of your all-time favourites. You go up close and then
step back and take a longer look from one of the benches. Then the double hit as you
watch other peoples’ first reactions - the step falters, knees slightly buckle,
then the beatific smile like one of Bernini’s angels.
Meanwhile the London tabloids are still hitting hard as politicians contract foot
A reporter at the Labour Party conference in Brighton suggested to one of Tony
Blair’s merry men that Iraq would be high on the agenda. To which the politician
replied "not at all – Iraq’s just a fringe matter like fox hunting".
At a reception in New York on Tuesday Jack Straw was caught shaking hands with
Robert Mugabe. When questioned Jack Straw said "I did it because it was dark and
I did not realise it was his hand".
In summing up the War issue at the Labour conference Claire Wilcox said "it no
longer matters whether we were for or against it". To which The Independent’s Simon
Carr quipped "Under New Labour only the future is certain; the past keeps changing".
Oh shit & bugger! – I’ve just missed a sensational concert last night by one of my
all-time favourites – Ray Davies. Nick Hasted’s review in The Independent does
nothing to improve my mood:
"Waterloo Sunset is introduced truthfully, as "your song", something beyond him now.
He sings it almost to himself, humbly. Its perfection ambushes me with a sudden rush
of emotion. Then "Days" levers open the heart, its themes of loss and memory
hitting heavier with each year. By now, of course, the crowd are on their feet,
some crying. Genius will out."
As we walk across London Bridge this evening we look down the Thames and sure
enough there way in the distance is Waterloo Bridge. Is that a break in the low grey
clouds and a thin Ray of sunshine?