ART GALLERY TRIP PART ONE – Abstract Photography, Improvised Forks & How Not to Navigate the London Tube System

Heads up friends, this is going to be a wordy post, so if you’re mainly here for the pictures you can go ahead and skip this one.

Last week, thanks to the generosity of Pop My Mind, I was able to take two, count ‘em, two, trips to London to do some gallery binging. Using the experience portion of the bursary from my Invention Award, I managed to take in both Tate museums, an exhibition at the Barbican Centre, the Victoria Miro Mayfair gallery, the Whitechapel gallery and squeeze in a brief wander around the V&A.

But Sam, that’s far too much to do in just two days what were you thinking? I hear at least one person crying. And the answer is – art. I wanted to see all of the art and goddammit I pretty much did. Before we get in to it, this, as you can tell by the title, is part one of two. Today’s post will be about my Tuesday trip, and next week you can look forward to my Friday adventures. Both tales may or may not be mildly humorous and infinitely fascinating. I make no promises.

So without further ado:


Folks, I am a planner. We know this. And the plan was to take in three galleries in each trip, with timings carefully planned out to take into account opening times, previous visits, tube travel times and precisely how long it would take me to lace up my boots. You know. A capital-P Plan. Tuesday’s plan was meant to go like this:

Get up exceptionally early, leave exceptionally early, arrive at the station thirty minutes before my train and a full ten minutes before my ticket would so much as let me onto the platform, then finally get to London. After which I would hit up the Tate Modern & The Shape of Light exhibition in the morning, the Whitechapel gallery mid-afternoon, a quick stop to eat and then end the day with Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins at the Barbican Centre. And everything was going great! I was ahead of schedule, I’d gotten in some drawing on the train, the day was bright and sunny and today was going to be awesome!

Then I ended up on the wrong side of London because somewhere along the lines I’d gotten Ealing Broadway and Blackfriars mixed up – don’t ask me how because I honestly do not know. Cut to another half hour of travelling, midday rapidly approaching and me not even in a gallery yet. Cue the self-deprecating tweets and grumpy texting to the boyfriend.

Eventually I make it to the right station, anxiously cross a bridge, clutching my phone like it’s going to spontaneously fly out of my hand and into the Thames and sweating like an art student in a maths exam. But I did it! I’m here! Tate Modern here I come.

Since by this point my day is now pretty far behind my schedule, I decide to cut out the Whitechapel gallery for today and just explore the Tate and the Barbican. So, I haul my sweaty self upstairs to the Shape of Light exhibition. This exhibition was the one I was most looking forward to, and it did not disappoint. 100 years of photography and abstract art? Sign me the hell up.

The exhibition takes up 12 galleries, leading you on a tour through the history of abstract photography and ways it links to other art forms. Abstract art is one of those Marmite things, though, isn’t it? You either like it or you don’t. I freaking love it. I think I spent close on two hours just in that exhibition, staring at rayograms and smears of black and white light and generally having a grand old time being excited about art by myself.

Photography in the exhibition was kind of allowed, but only for personal use, so I won’t share any of my snapshots here. That and my snapshots aren’t very good, they were mainly note-taking of works and artists to look up late. I did do some sketching of pieces that really jumped at me, though, so I’ll include those here:

The Shape of Light is a wonderful exhibition, and if you’re interested in photography or abstraction I highly recommend it. And if, like me, you’re under 25, sign yourself up for a free Tate membership and get your tickets for a fiver. It’s the sensible thing to do.

Paid exhibition complete! Time for lunch and oh…oh no. Despite my careful planning, I have no fork with which to eat my pasta. But I am nothing if not resourceful, and I have a lot of hairgrips in my bag. Problem solved.

Full of pasta, I head back into the Tate to wander around the free exhibition halls. I’ve been to the Modern before, so much of what’s there I’d already seen, and honestly I just wanted to find the Dali’s and other surrealist works and stare at them for ages, so that’s what I ended up doing. And here we take a small digression because while I was trying to have A Moment with Autumnal Cannibalism, I encountered Strange-Yet-Excitable-American-Man. SYEAM, turned to me, motioning at one of the other large paintings on the wall and excitedly told me how this was the real size for a painting, that this was how big we should be working.

Being British, I nod and hum politely and go back to Dali. SYEAM joins me next to the Dali, peering closely at it, then turns to me and asks me about the photography policy. This despite me looking nothing like a Tate employee. But I told him, since I knew, and he proceeded to fail to turn the flash off on his phone and take a close up of the painting. He asks me why flash is not allowed and I awkwardly mutter something about bright light damaging pigments. SYEAM and I part ways at this point and I am left feeling uncomfortable and confused with the Dali.

Once I’m done with the surrealists, and because I realise the Barbican exhibition isn’t open as late as I thought, I head back to the tube. The only interesting point between the station and the Tate is that you pass the Church of Scientology and, like, I didn’t even know we had one of those and now I don’t know what to do with the knowledge.

Feet hurting because I made a poor, yet stylish, choice in boots, I make it to the Barbican and stand there red-faced and sweaty while nicely-dressed people wander around looking busy, making me wonder if I’m even in the right place. I finally cool off, buy my tickets – as with the Tate, being under 25 has its perks in yet another cheap exhibition ticket – and head in. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Another Kind of Life. I knew several of the photographers had explored queer life, which I was very into, but other than that I was going in kind of blind.

This one had a strict No Photo’s Allowed policy, so I don’t have anything to show you here, but believe me when I say it was an excellent exhibition. The explorations of, as the show says, life on the margins, were intriguing, powerful and in places unsettling. As someone who knows pretty much nothing about photography, I was suitably impressed. Sometimes it’s good to stand in a cool gallery and stare at photographs of people who had lives impossibly different from your own, and end up seeing things that connect them to you.

I didn’t spend as long there as I did in the Shape of Light exhibition, in equal parts because my poor-yet-fashionable footwear choices were giving me grief again, and because they closed at six, which it very nearly was. The unfortunate downside to this was that it was now rush-hour at the tube station nearest to the Barbican Centre, and I am 10000% not about that sweaty, angry, post-work, summer-afternoon people crush. So I dragged my screaming feet the twenty minutes it took to get to the next stop over and…somehow went the long way round? I think I change twice, went through the station I’d decided not to get in at because the crush was so bad, until I eventually made it to Liverpool Street and the train home.

And this brings us to the end of Part One of this long, rambling, vaguely amusing retelling of The Time I Went To London. Tune in next week for the thrilling conclusion.


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