In London, first time in four years. Jet-lagged on arrival, of course. Next day on feet and off to walk, see museums. Started with walk to Whitechapel Gallery, East End where their major space was being filled with yet-to-open exhibition. What was up not so interesting, aside from a piece or two,
and we strolled down Brick Lane towards the Hoxton area, now a full-tilt artsified area, the square full of the hipwasie on a lovely summer afternoon, tattoos and hairplay in full exhibitionist phase. In the White Cube gallery they had a show of Raqib Shaw, whose work I’d seen before, though I don’t recall where or when, but in London.
These are ornate, intricately done works, dense in detail, using sequins, little fake jewels, and a painting technique with little raised edges and metallic liquids, all combining to make a somewhat overwhelming accumulation. Figuratively the imagery draws on Indian and other mythologies, and animals, insects, and a certain kind of morbid repulsiveness. While conceding they constitute a hell of a lot of work I don’t like them at all, as they seem to traffic in what is apparently a current hot fashion for kitsch, coupled with the morbid/decadent, all celebrated (at a high price) as an act of epater le bourgeois who are its primary audience and buyers. What is really perverse is not the “art” but the market-driven force which lies behind it all, as exemplified in the agent who stood in front of one huge panel, busily selling in art-speak some would-be clients for the Shaw pieces. I assume in the current climate the numbers have dropped a bit.
Of interest to me with Raqib is that I had not known until the other day that he is in fact Indian, though living and working in London. Which slightly altered my view, as the Indian motifs and kitschiness seemed somehow more acceptable as they were now “native.” On the other hand I don’t like Indian kitsch either ! So it was win one, lose one. Neither Shaw, nor the other shield carriers of this movement move me. We’ll miss the Serpentine exhibit of Jeff Koons, one of the major sources of this fashion for kitsch. I only wanted to go to recharge my acerbic batteries.
The next day we wandered down along the river, past Norman Foster’s London Mayor’s office helmet, which is now accompanied with a large glassy office/hotel complex just a step up river.
Norman Foster, Mayor’s building
Norman Foster and Richard Rogers seem to be the doubled Christopher Wren of these days, with the city liberally sprinkled with their buildings, from the now “aging” Lloyds of London building by Rogers, soon to be companioned with his new Leadenhall tower, and on to such as the flopped Millennium Dome.
Richard Rogers, Lloyd’s BuildingRichard Rogers, new Leadenhall BuildingLeaden Hall, Sir Horace Jones, 1881
The Lloyd’s building, 1986, is aging nicely, its sleek elements now getting a bit banged up, streaked with the patina of time, and looking ever more proper in its setting beside the old Victorian market of Leadenhall, which echoes its structural ethos: show the works. The new Leadenhall is not yet up, and will dwarf Lloyds and the quaint old one.
A few hundred yards away looms what is locally called the Gherkin, Foster’s biting rejoinder of roundedness rebuking the angular geometries of Rogers.
This architectural exuberance, mirrored in other places around the world – from Abu Dhabai to New York to Shanghai – is likely to come to a shuttering stop in the next few years, it all being the direct by-product of the great international “housing bubble”, a flim-flam game of fast money and doubtless fast girls. The harbors of the world are now full of yachts for sale, and I read that the byways of Florida are littered with abandoned boats of all kinds, the owners unable to unload them for cash or pay parking fees, leaving them to the wiles of the sea. My host in London, deep into business where his paper wealth has shed some 70% in value in the last 18 months, says the bottom is far away for the real estate market here, and as in effect the UK doesn’t really make anything any more, and its recent bloom of wealth was largely the flash of shuffled funny-money, when things settle down, Britain will revert to being Europe’s poor cross-channel relative. But for the moment it remains beastly expensive, with a one stop move on the Tube costing a mere 4 quid, or about 6 dollars one-way! A 1-2 zone day-pass is a mere $8.50 or so. Other things are similarly tagged, and to this mind more or less out of reach.
Likewise the art, which if not in a commercial gallery, or part of the rich collection of the National Gallery or the Tate Britain or Modern, is priced at $15 or so an exhibition. Art, for this presumptive artist, is just too expensive to see and experience. Looking at the thin attendance at some of the shows we went to check out, it would appear we’re not the only skinflints these days. To say we wandered to the Tate Modern on our second day here, past the Foster building, down along the South Bank walkway of the Thames, ducking into the lovely Southwark Cathedral for a bit, listening to choir boys practice.