The Tate Modern’s turbine hall was empty, with only the scar, filled with concrete, of Doris Salcedo’s earlier floor crack to see:
I don’t think we missed much not seeing “the original.” I’ve seen a handful of Turbine Hall installations and only two managed to meaningfully cope with the space – Anish Kapoor’s massive tube and Olafur Eliasson’s stunning mirrored sun.
So we skipped the for-pay show on, Danish painter Per Kirkeby (10 pounds), and saw the museum’s collection as presently displayed – somewhat changed since it opened to some strong negative comments about the method of organizing it in categories. It’s still done that way, but something was rearranged and it works better now. More or less the standard modern canon. Which, frankly, for me has grown tiresome and tedious in most cases. I have seen these some forty years and more, scattered in museums across the globe, and sadly most have not grown well, but seem to diminish with each new viewing, with of course, some exceptions.
Another day led us to the National Gallery, where I went to re-see for the umpteenth time some of my most favorite and studied paintings:
Paolo Uccello, van Eyck, Henri Rousseau and Degas, respectively. These are works which do not diminish on looking again and again, but grow each time. When I lived in London in 1996, a went repeatedly to the National Gallery and spent hours cumulatively in front of the Uccello, which step-by-step revealed its depths to me. I did a tracing paper analysis of its elements, made an unfinished really lame pastel based on it, and consider it now an old friend and wise teacher. Here is a painting from which one can learn an awful lot. And likewise the stunningly simple van Eyck “Als Ich Kann” (As well as I can), presumed to be a self-portrait. It sits besides the far more viewed Arnolifini Marriage, to which each day little hordes of viewers come, to be lectured. This time it was a Japanese cluster which arrived, and after the mandatory instructions, herded off in a few minutes, none stopping to actually look at the painting, and least of all to the little portrait to its left. Going to museums – which not so long ago were usually sparsely attended, and now are almost all crowded – I wonder what these visitors see, or why. It seems museum going has become an obligatory part of being a tourist, a fashion, and watching the listless teenagers, the husband-wife couples wander either aimlessly about, or if a bit more knowledgeable, going first to the name plaque to decide if the painting is worth 10 seconds – “Oh, a Rembrandt!” “Oh, a Renoir.” The latter being a particular bete noir of mine, a painter to whose work I have a visceral negative reaction. Like Rubens. I’d like to think those tourists, who make going to the museum these days far less pleasant, do learn something, but I rather doubt it is so. They learn only that they can rattle off, “We went to the National Gallery, and the Tate Modern, and the British Museum, and the V&A, and Madame Tussauds, and the London Eye, and Buckingham Palace, and…” All in 3 days. Then it’s on to Paris….
Our 9 days here was far too short. As is life. I must hope some day after the great collapse lowers the prices, except of airfares which will rise beyond reach, and thins the streams of tourists, to return on some gloomy winter for some months to peruse some final time these old friends. And then take a long spring walk along one of England’s many country paths, far from the madding crowd. For now though we join the low-budget hordes, and get our flight to Galway – with the bus to the airport being more costly than the flight – where a busy week awaits us before we take a slow meander along the West Coast, hopefully shooting landscapes in new HD. But more on London later.
Vermeer, of course