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ART GALLERY TRIP PART TWO – A Game of Find The Gallery & Other Extreme Sports (ft. Sam Gets Overly Enthusiastic About Art History And Yes, Abstraction IS The Hill I Will Die On)

Last week I recounted the incredibly thrilling tale of my misadventures visiting the Tate Modern and the Barbican. This week the journey continues as I visit three galleries and one museum in one day without dying. So without further ado:

FRIDAY

Okay. I have learned from Tuesday. I have checked and double checked which tube stations I need to go to. I have comfier boots. I have half a tube of knockoff Pringles. I am prepared.

And I do it! I get to the right station, on schedule. I find the Victoria Miro gallery. I enter the wrong gallery next door first. I find the actual Victoria Miro gallery and – it’s closed.

What.

The space is being re-organised for a different exhibition. Which, and I may be wrong, I may just not be able to navigate their website effectively, but I read nothing about this before I left. Nada. Nowhere did it mention that this space would be completely closed down. But you know, this is fine, they have two spaces and I was going to visit both, I’ll just go to the other one. No problem.

Despite my comfier boots I am not much comfier trekking through the streets today. I could probably have picked a less humid week for this adventure, but then what would I have to complain about? MUCH LESS, THAT’S WHAT. But I have lost only a very little time, and I spend the journey to Mayfair admiring the very fashionable dude in the red leather jacket overlaid with leather harness, jewelled pumps, fancy hat, huge sunglasses and shiny silver bag. Is he melting under all that? Almost certainly. Do I appreciate the effort in the aesthetic? Absolutely.

I make it to Mayfair, which is full of very big and very loud capitalism, and find the Victoria Miro Mayfair space! What I do not find for the next few minutes is the door for the Victoria Miro Mayfair space, until I remember a review saying the front looks like a residential building. I push the buzzer, nothing happens. I try again and push the door this time, which opens into some kind of art gallery airlock, and watch in confused amazement as the wall in front of me slides away to let me in.

Humidity and power walking always lend to a fun entrance to cool, clean, dead silent gallery spaces. There is nothing worse than being the sole entrant into a quiet space, red-faced, sweating, trying not to breathe like an asthmatic elephant. Luckily there are a few other patrons, so it’s not as awkward as it could have been.

The exhibition here is Surface Work, a collection of abstract works by female artists, something I was very excited about. It’s a small exhibition, and in all honesty there weren’t a huge number of works that I connected with. I enjoyed Jay DeFeo’s White Water, a striking black and white oil painting, depicting an edge and a fall into what is at once water, ice and some cold galactic depth. I was also excited to see one of Yayoi Kusama’s infinity nets – I’ve been intrigued by her work ever since I saw it on the MoMA’s Youtube channel a couple months back. And you can make fun of me all you want for being enthusiastic about spending several minutes staring at a white canvas with hundreds of white and white-ish loops of paint on it, but I like it and that’s what counts.

But like I said, the gallery isn’t very big and I was finished fairly quickly. Since I was ahead of schedule, I decided I’d check out the gallery I’d had to skip on Tuesday – the Whitechapel Gallery. So I’m there and I’m waiting for the train and it’s going to take a while and my phone says it’s only a ten minute walk so I decide ‘screw it! It’s a nice day, my feet don’t hurt, I’ll walk’.

This is where I find out that either my phone is a liar or I took a serious wrong turn because it takes me closer to half a goddamn hour to get there, and I have to go down a food-truck alley and I am both hungry and poor and this is the worst. I make it, though, half-melted and half-dead, but at least my feet don’t hurt as bad as they did on Tuesday and oh look, the station I was waiting for the train to is two feet from the gallery isn’t life great?

The Whitechapel Gallery is spread over about three floors, and while I didn’t explore everything there, what I did take in was excellent. The first was the two Alone Together short art films. Both play at the same time in two joined but separate gallery spaces, the simultaneous audio creating a strange, unsettling, dream-like effect. The first film was an animated figure, a strange humanoid body evolving and growing, breathing and speaking in a shifting void of darkness and coloured shapes. It felt part guided meditation and part hallucination.

The second film was a dance? A movement? It was the members of the youth forum who collaborated in creating the films, moving across different spaces, surrounded by smoke, speaking about bodies and movement. Of the two I preferred the first film, apart from the opening shots of the live-action film; the girl who sits staring into the camera had such a regal, almost goddess-like poise to her expression and her movements, it was captivating.

The other exhibition I took in here was the iSelf Collection: Bumped Bodies. From what I recall it was, I think, the third in a series of exhibitions themed around the body and idea of self. There were hits and misses in the collection for me – quite a lot of sculpture as opposed to the many paintings that I’d been looking at so far. Sculpture designed to look close to human is always slightly unsettling to me, and I’m always impressed by it because, like, how did you do that? Still, it was a very enjoyable exhibition to spend a little while in.

But time was moving on and I had the Tate Britain to get to, so I headed out. I got to then enjoy the slightly surreal but lovely experience of chilling in the tube station, eating my Fake Pringles, listening to guy with his headphones in singing Strawberry Fields off-key. At least until the loud lady on the other platform woke us all from our reverie by yelling into her phone. Joyous.

Onwards, to the Tate Britain! Which I’m sure I went to before on a college trip but it turns out I didn’t go there, I went to the National Gallery, so I’m now very glad I didn’t decide I was too tired for it and skip it for the V&A. It’s quite a jump now, switching to classical art after all the abstraction, but it’s an enjoyable change. The chronological layout takes you through art history and it’s great seeing it shift from fancy commissions of rich people and their families, all the way through to modern art again. It’s at this point I have the startling realisation that I think I enjoy viewing modern and abstract art in galleries more than classical paintings.

I know, hang me for a heretic, but it’s true. Why is this? I don’t know. Maybe because even though Old Master paintings are good and important and vital to study from, I don’t feel that much difference in viewing the original painting than in viewing a decent quality reproduction. Maybe I don’t appreciate them properly because it’s not the area of art history I spend as much time learning about. Who knows.

(But also – some of those paintings? So good. So big. Stop it, it’s intimidating. More on this later)

Anthea Hamilton – The Squash

Moving out of the chronological galleries for a moment, I catch a glimpse of the current performance art piece hosted at the gallery – The Squash, created by Anthea Hamilton.

Look, this is another one of those things you either like or you don’t. you don’t have to get it. I don’t 100% get it but I do know it gave me great joy to watch this person dressed like a surreal alternate universe children’s character with a squash for a head sliding and dancing around the huge grid-space the hall has been turned into. Don’t ask me what it means, it doesn’t have to mean anything. It’s weird and interesting and strange. That’s all it has to be.

After this brief pause I almost leave before realised I’ve stumbled into the MODERN SECTION YES AT LAST. More abstract art! Naum Gabo sculpture in a tiny case! Weird demonic figure paintings! Giant pile of metal and plastic pieces that kind of looks like someone left behind the construction stuff but that’s fine! I don’t have to get it, it’s just there.

Francis Bacon – Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixtion

Here’s a brief digression. I like this part of art. I like the point in art’s history where it moved towards abstraction in a myriad of different ways and everyone just ran with it. I like DaDa and anti-art: not because it’s beautiful and so high-brow and the masses don’t get it, but because there’s nothing to get! It’s anti-art and it’s old-timey shitposting and I love it! And then the surrealists tried to paint their dreams and their psyche and everyone got mad at everyone else, and somehow it all tumbled into what we have now as modern and post-modern art and everyone’s still mad about it.

And like, I get it. Art is weird. There’s stuff I don’t like from the current era of conceptual and performance art. But isn’t it great that we’re still making this stuff? That we’re still trying to out-clever and out-weird each other, and it’s so polarising and isn’t that just the entire point sometimes?

Ahem.

Meanwhile, back at the Tate, I spend some time watching an art film called, I think, The Woolworth Choir. I’m pretty sure at this point I have some kind of heatstroke because my head hurts and I’m a little woozy, so sitting in a dark, cool room with some weird video clips is a perfect idea. So imagine, if you will, me doing that, woozily sipping water, taking all the pins out of my hair in the hopes it’ll make my head stop exploding, watching this Bill-Wurtz-Esque clip show of photo’s of churches intercut with definitions, hand movements and pop-video clips, that transitions into it being connected with a Woolworth’s that burned down back when there were still Woolworth’s to burn down. It was good! Certainly an interesting concept and well edited, but I’d probably enjoy watching it again with a bit more coherence to my brain structure.

And now, at long last, onto the final stage of my journey – to the Victoria & Albert Museum! Another place I’ve never been but always wanted to go to! And I’ve somehow managed to time my travel to be just ahead of rush hour and everything is great.

This is followed by the swift realisation, once there, that all the interesting exhibitions are pair. Then a slightly less swift but equally frustrating realisation that although the museum is open late on Fridays, most of it is still actually closed after 5.45pm. It was close to five when I got there. Cue mild annoyance and panic. There followed then a brief and frantic attempt to find the European medieval and renaissance sections because that stuff is my jam. During this attempt, I managed to stumble into the Raphael Room and here is where we return, as promised, to my point about paintings that are so good and so big.

Because these things? Huge. Astronomically huge. Like, almost the height of a damn house huge, and I did not realise this before now, holy shit. So like any good artist I spent a solid five minutes walking around in front of them just mouthing ‘what the fuck, what the  f u c k’ and staring like an idiot. This impression was not helped by reading the brief biography of Raphael on the wall and learning that he was something like mid-twenties when he was making these and my dude, that’s my age, this is not fair.

And then I dealt with my feelings of crushing insignificance and went to find the other things I was interested in. Which resulted in realising that a lot of what was there, I wasn’t super into. Maybe it was the prelude of all the gallery art and abstraction, but historical artefacts just weren’t grabbing me that much. So my visit here is done inside of an hour and oh, look at that, just in time for the rush hour crush on the tube. My favourite.

Which of course is when my ticket decides to stop functioning for no earthly obvious reason, meaning I have to stand around and try to make eye contact with an attendant at every barrier I want to go through, which is, you know, awesome. The only good thing about that journey back was the slightly passive-aggressive guy with the microphone organising the trains who kept calling everyone out on not moving down inside the train.

And with that, we did it, friends. We made it. Six galleries. Three days. I dreamed an impossible dream and somehow it came true. My brain is full of inspiration, the weather continues to be too humid for anyone’s liking, and I am eternally grateful to Pop My Mind for providing me with the funds to make this possible. (And, side-note, if anyone wants to give me money to go and see other galleries that exist and write moderately entertaining blog posts about them my Ko-Fi link is right there in the sidebar).

Now leave me and my pile of art history books in peace, I’ll see you next week with something a little less wordy for Pride month.

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