Tag Archives: art

London Slant: Lunch in the most amusing room in Europe

Have you savoured our city’s culinary speciality—London Particular Soup? I confess that until recently I hadn’t, but that’s now been rectified thanks to an unlikely intermediary, the glamorous new staircase at Tate Britain.

Tate Britain new staircase

View from the Tate Members’ Room: staircase leading to the Rex Whistler Restaurant.

Much has been written about this grand spiral of steps inserted at Tate Britain’s original entrance more than a century after the gallery opened. All agree it’s a sensation—daring, dazzling yet looking as though it’s been there forever.

Tate Staircase

Swirling steps designed by architects Caruso St John.

But what’s its purpose? Such a flight of fancy is surely only there to lead into an equally impressive space. And so it was that I swept down the scalloped marble steps and into the newly refurbished Rex Whistler Restaurant.

Rex Whistler Restaurant at Tate Britain

The Rex Whistler Restaurant at Tate Britain.

Suddenly I was plunged into the rural idyll depicted on the mural by artist Rex Whistler that covers all the walls. Castles, caves and craggy mountains alternate with formal gardens and river valleys. As my eyes grew accustomed to the scene I noted the hunters that inspired its title: The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats (or, as we might say now, out foraging for food). The gusto with which this royal party are tracking down their dinner helped inspire the description that greeted the restaurant’s opening in 1927 as “the most amusing room in Europe”.

Today, it’s not just the painting that’s packed with entertainment value: the London-inspired menu and English wine list are an adventure, too. Of course, we had to try the London Particular Soup, named after the pea souper fogs that were a regular feature of the city when Whistler took up his brush. But there was also an artichoke, walnut and caper salad. Who knew that Camberwell was once famous for its artichokes (just like Epping for its butter)?

But what to choose for the main course? Should it be traditional sirloin of Scottish beef or Dingley Dell pork? (The puffy, golden Yorkshire puds easily swung that one.)  Or how about the tangy beetroot and pearl barley vegetarian option? This took some lengthy, but delicious chewing that left me with no room for Sussex Pond pudding—suet pastry with lemon sauce inside.

Well, perhaps I should admit that earlier on another staircase had led me astray. This more modest set of steps takes Tate members spiralling up into the heavenly heights of the rotunda. There, in front of a mirrored counter designed to evoke Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, is an incredible display of pastries and cakes. I’m afraid I had already exhausted my day’s dessert quota in these ethereal surroundings, with great views down to the hall below.

So how does the new rehang of Tate Britain match up to its eateries? I’m happy to report that it more than rises to the occasion. Now that “themes” have been replaced by “chronology”, it is back to an exciting journey through the story of art in Britain, from Queen Elizabeth I in her finery to an empty room with Martin’s Creed’s Work No. 227—the lights going on and off.

The Rex Whistler Restaurant at Tate Britain. Lunch from £21 for two courses and £27 for three.

LONDON SLANT: CANTERBURY TRAILS

It’s a centuries old tradition that come the warmer weather travellers set off from London for Canterbury. It was a rambling ride in Chaucer’s day. But thanks to the Mo Farah and Sarah Storey Javelin trains that zoom out of St Pancras, the journey now takes under an hour.

So, one bright Sunday morning I found myself sharing a southbound carriage with two young women on the Walk of Shame. Both were curled up asleep. Two pairs of sparkly, spiky heels formed a decorative arrangement on the table.

The conductor appeared and they confessed: “We have an issue”. Cue cleavage-waggling and an elaborate yarn about how they’d lost their tickets when some clothing went missing the previous night. Duly ejected at the next stop, they tottered off along the platform in their remaining party gear.

Our train plunged into the most beautiful bucolic scene: lush water meadows with cattle grazing among reeds and flowers. Eventually the towers of Canterbury Cathedral reared up behind, but the goal of my journey lay elsewhere. I’d come to see the newly refurbished Beaney House of Art & Knowledge—a rather academic name for a museum-cum-giant cabinet of curiosities that was huge fun to explore.

Beaney Canterbury

The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge in Canterbury.

Beaney Canterbury

Inside the newly refurbished galleries.

A fanciful 1899 building on the High Street, The Beaney’s doors open to some wonderful paintings, ranging from old masters to contemporary works. But I was equally taken by more unexpected displays. I admired a mummified Egyptian cat, a stuffed armadillo, a Venus flower basket (the skeleton of a sponge) and ancient garnet brooches dug up when the building was restored.

Venus flower basket

One of many curios: the Venus flower basket, a sponge skeleton.

But what I most enjoyed was making the acquaintance of two eccentric Victorian gentleman travellers and the quirky treasures they brought back.

One, Stephen Lushington, was both MP for Canterbury and Governor of Madras. Jane Austen wrote of him: “He is quite an MP. I am rather in love with him. I dare say he is ambitious and insincere.” He returned home with a huge collection featuring a sword guard with a demon devouring an elephant and a mace decorated with intricate flowers.

And then there was the Reverend Henry Landsell, whose adventures took him across Asia during the 1870s. There are photographs of him posing in outrageous local costumes in Siberia and the Stans. From Kashgar he brought back a leather face slapper, captioned “for slapping naughty women’s faces in prisons”. From Burma came decorative objects ransacked from the Royal Palace of Mandalay. More practical were the embroidered trousers he bought in a Tashkent bazaar, which he found “warm and useful” when travelling by horse.

I could have spent hours sitting on the Beaney’s little portable stools, peering at every detail of these intriguing objects. But a late lunch called, so it was off to The Goods Shed, for melt-in-the-mouth roast beef and a vegetable platter. We sat at wooden tables on a dais above the farmer’s market in full swing to one side. I’m sure that every carrot, splash of oil and slice of bread came straight from the organic stalls busy with shoppers down below. Great atmosphere, great food.

The Goods Shed Restaurant

The Goods Shed Restaurant, close by Canterbury station.

As I sipped my locally brewed beer I suddenly remembered those two girls on the train. Were they still staggering back home on their stilettos? Or had they managed to bamboozle another ticket inspector with a more convincing Canterbury tale?

LONDON SLANT: POMPEII VERSUS DAVID BOWIE

This summer two “blockbuster” London exhibitions go head to head. In the first corner we have Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum at the British Museum. Opposite, across town at the V&A, we have David Bowie is…

Pompeii/Bowie

This season’s must-have coffee table ornaments: catalogues for David Bowie is… and Pompeii and Herculaneum

With 67,000 tickets pre-booked, Bowie has attracted more advance sales than any previous V&A show. Pompeii, which one reviewer even compared to the landmark 1972 Tutankhamun exhibition, has gone a step further with nearly 72,000 enthusiasts reserving slots before the opening day. What is it that’s got everyone scrambling to get in?

At first glance the two shows couldn’t be more different: the elegant, exquisitely presented British Museum exhibition versus Jean Genie and Rebel, Rebel pumping through headphones at the V&A.

But hang on a minute…

Going to the Pompeii show is like being invited to dinner at a Roman house minutes before Vesuvius starts to spew. Many of the exhibits are so intimate—a child’s wooden cradle charred by the heat, a table arrayed with trinkets to impress guests, a flask of the condiment du jour, fish sauce—you feel an instant bond with these people even though they lived in AD79. With the notable exception of a container to breed dormice for the cooking pot, the exhibits constantly remind you of how their lives resemble ours.

David Bowie

Origins of a legend: where Ziggy Stardust began.

The Bowie exhibition, too, is a walk-in scrapbook of minutiae that build into a living portrait of a time past. We have the pieces of paper that he scrawled his lyrics on and even a tissue with lipstick blotted from his lips. Of course there are the gorgeous costumes and enough high art (Die Brüke, Warhol and Gilbert and George) to elevate the show above the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. But I won’t forget the crowd of balding heads just inside the entrance completely spaced out by a video of Bowie playing Major Tom beneath a television shaped like a sputnik and an image of the moon. This is a snapshot of an era. And they were there.

Both shows still have months to run. You’ve seen the advance booking figures, but who will come out tops in the end? If the two venues want to really see visitor numbers skyrocket the British Museum could host evenings of drinks in the fabulous Roman garden they’ve created. (How about serving the favourite Pompeiian tipple of watered-down wine—perfect for these straitened times?) Meanwhile the V&A could deploy its Sennheiser headphones to run a silent disco among the vast screens pulsing with the Spiders from Mars.

Count me in.

LONDON SLANT: NEW AT KEW

No matter how many times I visit London’s Kew Gardens (and it’s a lot) every time I go I see something new. I never cease to be amazed at how somewhere so seemingly “natural” can be so innovative. But since Kew’s all about plant life tamed and put on show, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s so cutting-edge.

Orchids at Kew

Part of a fabulous wall of orchids at Kew.

I always try to catch the annual Orchid Festival, and last week provided the perfect day for this eye-popping adventure. The sun streamed into the Princess of Wales Conservatory, lighting up walls and giant bowls dripping exotic blooms. I loved the columns of vibrant colour reflected in the central pool and archways draped in flowers.

Orchids at Kew

Orchids in and around the pool at the Princess of Wales Conservatory, Kew.

The petal paparazzi were out in force, snapping away as these showy stars strutted their stuff, flaunting their finery full force. Outside the conservatory though, nodding in the shade, much more modest flowers were also causing a stir. There may still be a nip in the air, but spring is coming and snowdrops, crocuses and even a few camellias are starting to appear.

Snowdrops and sculpture at Kew

The alien has landed: a scattering of snowdrops and looming David Nash Black Sphere sculpture at Kew.

This leads us gently into the other excitement of my visit: David Nash’s extraordinary sculptures, artfully positioned around the grounds. Nash has been doing amazing things with wood in general and whole tree trunks in particular for 40 years. He was recently invited to create new works from wood available from Kew’s tree management programme to display around the grounds alongside other pieces from his long career. One of the most exciting aspects of this show is how it makes you look at Kew’s living trees in a different, more detailed way, as if they, too, are works of art.

David Nash sculptures at Kew

Scuttlers: A David Nash sculpture on show near his outdoor studio at Kew where it was created.

In addition to works around the grounds, there are dramatic pieces in Kew’s elegant buildings. They look particularly striking among the lush foliage of the Temperate House where, as Nash says: “The exciting thing for me is to see my works in the jungle. To put them among plants, which is where they come from”.

David Nash sculpture at Kew

David Nash’s Throne in the Temperate House.

David Nash sculpture at Kew

A flame-like cone of cork bark in a Kew conservatory

A pyramid of cork bark looks terrific in an otherwise empty conservatory and there’s a fascinating display of smaller pieces in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art. The gallery also details the evolution of Nash’s career and includes photographs of other site-specific works, including a circle of living trees which the artist has bent inward to interweave and form Ash Dome.

David Nash sculptures at Kew

Clams? Magritte-like bells? These strange shapes seem to float in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art.

The last thing I expected to do on a sunny day at Kew was to sit and watch a film, but I was totally riveted by Wooden Boulder, the story of a huge “rock” that Nash carved from a tree on a remote hilltop in Wales in 1978. Beginning with still photographs and developing into an exquisitely shot art film, it relates how Nash cut the huge slab of wood, tried but failed to move it downhill, how storms eventually did the job for him and how by 2003 it had reached a river and was washed out to sea. The tale began with grainy snaps of a young man in flared trousers desperately trying to dislodge this giant piece of wood and ended with beautiful – yet rather humorous – footage of his boulder bobbing on the waves of a vast seascape. It’s a wonderful comment on the artist and his life.

Orchids at Kew, until 3 March. David Nash at Kew, until 14 April.

There’s an excellent catalogue, David Nash at Kew Gardens, to accompany the show, as well as an iPad app.

LONDON SLANT: LIGHT SHOW – JUST GO

“The artwork is designed to stimulate the senses. If at any stage you feel uncomfortable PLEASE LEAVE THE SPACE.” Having read this notice you can imagine that I couldn’t wait to pull back the black curtain and go inside. But as this was the last of the 25 works in the London Hayward Gallery’s stunning Light Show, let’s return to it later.

This new, incandescent exhibition has quite appropriately, spawned glowing reviews. So much so that on the Sunday I visited advance tickets had all sold out. The swell of visitors means you really need a game plan: get there at the 10am opening time and head straight to James Turrell’s Wedgework V. Here you can sit and ponder the angry crimson rectangle projected at an angle onto a wall, with blueish light suggestive of an unreachable exit on the far edge. After this, you should nip up the stairs and into the mirrored, light-studded “phonebox” that is Ivan Navarro’s Reality Show. Having got ahead of the queues at both of these installations, you can return to the beginning of the show and amble through the remaining works.

Light Show at Hayward Gallery

Chromosaturation by Carlos Cruz-Diez: three rooms lit blue, red and green trick the eyes and mind.

Full marks to the curators. Every single item on show is either scintillating or stimulating – and usually both. I can’t remember ever getting into so many conversations with strangers in an art gallery, but these works prompt you to interact and exclaim, as did one toddler who came flailing towards me: “Awesome!”

You and I Horizontal by Anthony McCall: step among rotating beams that seem solid enough to touch. Photo by Linda Nylind.

You and I, Horizontal by Anthony McCall: step among rotating beams that seem solid enough to touch.

Works I especially enjoyed were Anthony McCall’s You and I, Horizontal, a dark, disorientating, haze-filled room shot with rotating beams of white light. Despite being mere projections, they seemed sufficiently solid as to pierce and break. I also lingered in Carlos Cruz-Diez’s Chromosaturation: three white spaces with lights coloured blue, red and green that created extraordinary visual effects both individually and where they met. They couldn’t express more clearly how light can trick the brain to see what isn’t there.

David Batchelor's Magic Hour uses lightboxes to capture the look and atmosphere of a city at sunset.Photo by Linda Nylind.

David Batchelor’s Magic Hour uses lightboxes to capture the look and atmosphere of a city at sunset.

I could go on, but let’s skip to that last room: Model for a Timeless Garden by Olafur Eliasson, creator of the hugely successful Weather Project giant sun at Tate Modern some years back. Here at the Hayward, strobe lights and a soundtrack create a magical, sparkling garden scene, that I won’t describe in more detail because you’ve got to go – and be amazed.

Until 28 April. Adult tickets: £11.

Photographs by Linda Nyland:

Carlos Cruz-Diez, Chromosaturation (1965-2013) ©the artist/DACS,Cruz-Diez Foundation.

Iván Navarro, Reality Show (2010),©the artist, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris.

Anthony McCall,You and I, Horizontal (2005), ©the artist courtesy of the artist and Sprüth Magers Berlin London.

 

LONDON PICCADILLY: WHERE SHOPPING TURNS SPIRITUAL

London’s Piccadilly circus is heaving with shoppers, struggling with armloads of bags. It’s dark, it’s wet, it’s noisy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to suddenly turn a corner and drift into a world of pure, white, softly-lit calm, where all the hassle has stopped and you sit in blissed-out peace.

Yesterday, that’s just what I did.

Leaving behind the crush encircling Eros, in five minutes I was floating into the Royal Academy‘s new exhibition, Rebirth. A meditation on the death and life of a star by Japanese artist Mariko Mori, it was like stepping inside a minimalist spa, minus the eucalyptus smells.

But as I took up position in front of the first exhibit, Tom Na H-iu, it became clear that this was no mere chill-out zone. Before me was a translucent glass megalith that wouldn’t have been out of place at Stonehenge except that it was pulsing with light. I discovered that it was hooked up to an observatory in Japan that detects emissions from the sun which are transmitted to the work in real time and appear as constantly shifting luminous shapes. So while meditating on the bursting patterns it was also a moment to consider time, space and how ancient peoples might once have contemplated similar forms.

Other exhibits were equally magical and challenging. In one room, a circle of nine smaller “standing stones” called to mind the planets. As I sat, each almost imperceptibly changed colour to suggest the varying tones of the planets as they move around the sun. I was also intrigued by exquisite photographs of Sun Pillar, a translucent column erected on an island off the Japanese coast. This will cast a shadow on a circular Moonstone in the sea, which, once installed, will change colour according to the lunar cycle.

The shadow of this last work will be in perfect alignment on the day of the winter solstice. So I considered it highly appropriate that I visited the show on December 21st. Maybe the auspicious timing gave the exhibition an extra glow. If so, it was one that stayed with me as I plunged back in among the Regent Street crowds.

Rebirth by Mariko Mori. At Burlington Gardens (not the main Royal Academy building) until 17 February.

MODEL BEHAVIOUR?

There have been times that I’ve struggled to get inside an artist’s head. This week Antony Gormley made it easy. And it wasn’t just his head, but his legs, torso and sundry other parts too. This was Model, his latest in a string of artworks based on his own body, currently on show at White Cube in Bermondsey.

When I arrived at the gallery door I was presented with a lengthy health disclaimer to read and sign. As I did so, other people were leaving, all looking disorientated and with bemused smiles muttering “amazing”, “excellent”.

Paperwork completed, I strode past a vast structure that resembled a pile of metal boxes and stepped inside the “left foot”. Total darkness. Slowly, cagily I shuffled through, scared to miss my step, waving my arms above my head to shield it and bumping into other people as the word “sorry” echoed all around.

Exploring the hidden recesses of Model.

Exploring the hidden recesses of Model.


I climbed on a ledge and crawled along the “spine”, then doubled back and stumbled through the stomach. I ran my hands over different textures and discovered crannies where I felt sure walls should have been and walls where it seemed as though there should be passageways.

Instead of the curves of Richard Serra’s monumental steel works, this was all angles: sharp and inhuman. It made me think of robot dolls with rotating cubes for bodies. Has Gormley moved to a stage where he now thinks of art, and the people associated with it, in terms of mechanics?

Other artworks scattered around White Cube, also based on Gormley’s body, and a room full of models of Model, reinforced this impression. As I left, I spotted Hinge II, an intriguing sculpture of two figures becoming one in an embrace. Perhaps gallery owner Jay Jopling could sell it to St Pancras station, to replace the ghastly sculpture of the kissing couple beneath the clock. Let’s at least hope that some of these stimulating works end up on public view, so that everyone can continue to get inside Gormley.

Until 10 February 2013

FRANCE FOR THE DAY

One of London’s many advantages is that it has five airports (six if you count upstart Southend). Plus it has the Eurostar train, which can whizz you to France in far less time (and possibly money) than it takes to get to most major UK cities. So, as it takes half as long to get to Lille than to Leeds, it’s the ideal target for a great day out.

A wild inferno: The Temptations of St Anthony by Jan Mandijn at Lille’s Palais des Beaux-Arts


The first Eurostar leaves a heaving St Pancras just before 7am and arrives at Lille in good time for a morning visit to the Palais des Beaux Arts, and its current exhibition: Flemish Landscape Fables. This ravishing display of magical scenes filled with bizarre creatures in extraordinary settings takes you into another world. There are wacky confections by Hieronymous Bosch: gruesome heads on legs, devils stirring hellish flames, snakes emerging from hollow eyes. And there are velvety-blue and gentle green panoramas of mountains, rivers and meadows by Joachim Patinier. Imagination runs riot whether it is scenes of paradise or achingly idyllic countryside that could only exist in the mind.

This wonderful show of 16th century paintings continues until January 14th, so there’s still plenty of time to catch it. If further inducement is needed, Lille has a lively Christmas market and there’s the chance to sample special festive season beers from just over the border in Belgium.

CHEERS TO AN EVENING OF ART

Never was a London thoroughfare more aptly named than Cork Street. Walk into this enclave of art galleries on any mid-week evening and there are bottles of wine being unstoppered everywhere you turn. Anyone not invited to the party could put on a patterned bow-tie, blag their way past the ladies with clipboards and have themselves an evening of visual excitement — not to mention few glasses of Pinot Grigio – on most nights of the week.

The fun and chatter was in full spate as I arrived at the opening of the Night and Day exhibition of paintings by artist PJ Crook. Unlike many contemporary art events, this one felt like a gathering of family and friends. Here were people who loved the works and knew the artist. I overheard a negotiation between a purchaser and the gallery owner. Not about the price but how soon she could take it away. “We really would prefer to keep it hanging until the show closes on December 7.”  “No, that’s too far away”. And so it continued, Istanbul bazaar style.

Night flight by PJ Crook

PJ Crook works in a Gloucestershire town, surrounded by beautiful countryside. I was particularly taken by her works focusing on wildlife, although she covers a huge range of subjects, from a rather frightening work likening the tsunami in Japan to the Pamplona bull run to crowds of sinister people reading newspapers with catchy headlines.

Nocturne by PJ Crook

I asked PJ why she’d chosen to do two paintings of owls. “I work mainly at night,” she told me. “So the nocturnal aspect of owls appealed to me. I also liked the idea of a countryside creature entering an urban environment. Normally you only glimpse an owl flitting by. There’s something ghostly, even angelic about it.”

It was huge fun exploring the other works on show, all of which have an instant appeal but, as you look closer, often reveal more unsettling aspects. The painting of an owl in a city centre, where it would not normally venture, perfectly captures this unease.

As the evening drew to a close I set off back along Cork Street, past a group of revellers outside a gallery a few doors further along. Suddenly I stumbled and there was the sound of breaking glass. I had tripped over a champagne flute just left sitting on the pavement. Cork St through and through.

Show continues at the Alpha Gallery, Cork St, until December 7.

 

ONLY THE WEIRDEST EXPERIENCES WILL DO

When I asked a friend to join me for an outlandish cultural event she replied, somewhat hesitantly I thought, that she would, but only because nowadays “only the weirdest experiences will do”. Given that I’ve recently paid to have a black hood thrown over my head and be driven in a van around Shoreditch as if being arrested by government forces in Syria, I can see what she means.

On the black hood scale, this week’s art outing was rather tame. But the Rain Room at the Barbican does have its dark side. You walk into a low-lit chamber shot with streaks of lights that dazzle in the gloom. One minute you’re inside the Curve Gallery and all is normal. The next you’re stepping into a monsoon downpour, which is thoroughly strange when you know you’re inside a huge hall. Then, as you gingerly step beneath the streaming water, “knowing” you’re about to get soaking wet, the streams of rain miraculously stop and all you feel are little errant splashes. It’s truly bizarre. Moses may have felt like this when the Red Sea parted.

For all this, the show didn’t move me as much as The Weather Project in the Tate Modern turbine hall a few years back. Then, a giant sun beamed down from on high and had visitors basking under its rays. I guess it just points up the difference between sun and rain. A glowing sun has you drifting around and opening up to the people around you, whereas rain makes you recoil into yourself — even when you know you won’t get wet.