In addition to our visit to Tate Britain which I covered in my previous post Siggy and I also visited the Saatchi Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery and The Photographer’s Gallery.
The Saatchi Gallery is situated off Duke of York Square which is itself situated off Sloane Square on the edge of Chelsea. We walked there from the Tate Britain admiring Chelsea Bridge and the various impressive architectural features of the buildings along the way. There were some pavements up and a huge building site disguised with the usual lofty awnings but it generally felt more peaceful and relaxing than other parts of that London, until of course we approached Sloane Square and the Lamborghini’s and Ferraris driven by bottle-blonde pink-shirted popped-collared buffoons started to make noisy over-revved appearances. We also saw a big pink flower sculpture along the way. If I had been paying more attention I could tell you who made it. I remember it was 1 of 3. No idea where the other two might be.
Duke of York Square was a hive of activity and to me felt like a rather more exclusive version of Covent Garden. There was a food market selling all sorts of noodles, cakes, burgers, cookies, chocolate, falafel, crepes and other snacks near the gallery. The grassed area at the front of the impressive gallery building was roped off and so many people were sitting on the flagstones, kerbs or the gallery steps to eat their market food. The contrast to the Tate Britain which sits on a main road and usually has umpteen coaches parked nearby was marked and undoubtedly deliberate.
Inside the gallery we found a typically mixed bunch of modern art. There seemed to be a disappointing lack of any really recognisable pieces – perhaps a warehouse fire put paid to that, or perhaps we stupidly missed a floor? The staff all looked like models in comparison to the bunch of odd-bods in the Tate. Although I expect the Tate people probably know their stuff rather being hired for their looks. Maybe I’m underestimating the Saatchi team, but if the collection they had on show is anything to go by then I doubt it.
The reason I have spent three paragraphs not talking about the art is that I was sorely disappointed. There was very little to write home about. We contrived to miss Abstract America Today (unless it was so unmemorable that it didn’t register) and concentrated on the Pangaea exhibition of new art from Africa and Latin America. Again just because it’s big doesn’t mean it’s clever and a giant monochrome piece with ‘milk’ written in the corner in big scrawled letters took the biscuit. Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou and Mário Macilau to me fell into the Taschen category of the rather passé notion that photos of women with their baps out is art. Admittedly Agbodjélou sticks a rather interesting tribal mask on his subject before taking a photo of her breasts but it might as well be a bag on her head. If the mask is so great let’s see it properly rather than in yet another uncomfortable shot of some boobs. Other works were so abstract or just plain bad that I doubted the sanity of the artists and the curator.
I guess I wanted something a lot more literal to look at and was rewarded by an army of large sculpted ants – gi-ants I guess you could call them – by Rafael Gómezbarros and a ball made of bricks and mortar by Fredy Alzate. I’m afraid all the other stuff really didn’t cut the mustard. Milk indeed.
The National Portrait Gallery is near Trafalgar Square and in comparison was just marvellous. I am no fan of celebrity culture but it was great to go in and give the artists marks out of ten for their portraits. A highlight for me was seeing the Blur portraits by Julian Opie, the frozen blood three-dimensional self-portrait ‘Self’ by Mark Quinn, Dame Judi Dench by Alessandro Raho and the amazing hyper-reality of Dame Kelly Holmes by Craig Wylie which puts Paul Emsley’s portrait of HRH The Duchess of Cambridge to shame. Emsley has made HRH look a lot older than her years and perhaps future-proofed the painting but it looked tired and drab next to Kelly.
The BP Portrait Award area was also a great collection of new art and there was the opportunity to vote on our favourites. There are fifty-five entrants from all over the world in various styles some of which echo the work of great artists such as Modigliani, Van Dyck and others already adorning the walls of the NPG.
The staff presence seemed quite foreboding at the NPG and unfortunately we weren’t comfortable taking any photos. If you haven’t been I would thoroughly recommended that you do and don’t confuse it with the National Gallery next door which I have found quite dull. There’s a rather nice Prezzo just over the road which does some nice pizza’s at reasonable prices for London.
While at Trafalgar Sqaure we couldn’t help but notice the giant blue cock on the fourth plinth. It’s called Hahn/Cock, it’s made of fibreglass and is by the German artist Katharina Fritsch. The eye-catching colour reminded me of International Kliene Blue.
The Photographers’ Gallery is vaguely near Oxford Circus tube station and Liberty and there’s a reasonably good Costa coffee on the corner nearby. We went after I had splurged on some new Onitsuka Tigers and Siggy had bought some overpriced chocolate off a charming man who looked like Chesney Hawkes in Liberty. On the ground floor was a large projected display with audio on headphones (a ‘media wall’ no less) of a Facebook hack art project called ‘Face to Facebook’ by two naughty individuals Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico – controversial stuff.
On various other floors in the tall but narrow building were interesting series of photos by rotten fruit and vegetable obsessive Lorenzo Vitturi and early colour photography in Russia. The early photography showed rather laughable attempts to colourise black and white prints, some rather odd (possibly vodka fuelled) sexual imagery on a projector tucked neatly away in a corner, some interesting journalistic photos of everyday life and Russian statesmen such as Lenin and some quasi-propaganda pieces that I am sure we’ve seen before at The Barbican Centre.
The small bunch of visitors we (sometimes literally) rubbed shoulders with seemed to be of a higher order of pretentiousness than in the NPG and while my joke about the horns and tail being missed by Rodrigo Moynihan when he painted Thatcher’s portrait got a wry smile and whispered comment from a couple at the NPG, my comment about Vitturi’s mouldy old fruit got a terse tut and a look Queen Victoria of which would have been proud. Apparently the fruit and veg in the still-life works were a commentary on the threatened spirit of a market. I guess I should have read the information boards, but I couldn’t be arsed old bean.
Photographing or displaying mouldy stuff isn’t exactly cutting edge but you have to appreciate the lengths some people will go in the name of art. Some people display stuff that belongs in a skip (Barlow) others display stuff that belongs in a bin (Vitturi). I guess they are equally valid as art, but I’d much rather look at a well painted oil on canvas, a good bit of spray can stencil work, or a sculpture carved from stone or cast in bronze.