Friday, May 15, 2015


We've had a little rain before, mostly spots or drizzle, but nothing that has interfered with our plans--until yesterday.  It rained all day, growing heavier in the afternoon and tapering off some by evening time.  Which did not encourage us to leave our snug room at the hotel.  After a very late night last night, we slept longer than usual, woke late, watched a little news on the television, ordered a large pot of tea and bowls of cereal in our room.

This was to have been our west end gallery day.  We set out with good intentions, taking the Tube a couple of stops from Knightsbridge to Green Park, bought a cheap red umbrella at the Green Park station and ventured out onto Piccadilly, where it was wet, windy, and cold.  The wind kept turning our little cheap umbrella inside out as we hurried onward and found a little respite from the weather in the Burlington Arcade--a good place for window-shopping if you're interested in high end goods: Rolex watches, Prada handbags, cashmere sweaters, diamonds, rubies, pearls...  It's a glittery corridor of wealth.

We walked through--well, we did a little window-shopping--and out the other end onto Cork Street, which used to be much more of a contemporary gallery row than it is now.  Today, it's a little more conventional than it used to be.  We did see an interesting show by the late Keith Richardson-Jones at Redfern, where we preferred the smaller works, geometric abstractions done in delicately defined forms and minimal palette.  We also picked up a copy of two gallery guides, one of which turned out to be very incomplete, the other--a map--virtually impossible to read, especially in the downpour of rain.

In search of a restaurant for lunch, we found ourselves on New Bond Street and spotted a pub off on a side street that looked like a good possibility.  We elbowed our way through the crowded bar and climbed a narrow staircase to an upstairs dining room, where we had what were reputed to be the best fish and chips in town--and were certainly the best fish and chips I've had in a very long time.  We each enjoyed, too, a glass of beer to comfort the soul before venturing out once more into the elements.  From the map, I guessed that I'd be able to find the Annely Juda, and on the way stopped at the neighboring Ronchini, where we very much liked the paintings by Jens Wolf, whose paintings gave a first impression of hard-edge abstraction but, on closer looking, revealed all kinds of delightful vulnerabilities.

Next door, at Annely Juda, we were much impressed by a recent series of works by David Hockney, combining a variety of media--painting, drawing, photography, Photoshop--to create a related series of mostly fairly large-scale images that looked at first sight like photorealist paintings of group portraits.  (The link will take you to an overview.) They're actually digital prints, and heir "realism" is put into question, on closer examination, not only by the kind of conflicting perspectives Hockney likes to play with, but with the recurrence of the same figure two or three times in the same painting, in a different attitude.  Taken as a whole, all the pictures add up to a single "story" documenting an event, a gathering at the artist's studio, seen from multiple points of view.  It's a fascinating, rather bewildering display, and another virtuoso performance by an artist who still seems to throw them off with casual ease.

By this time, the battle against wind and rain with confusing maps and guides was proving discouraging, and we decided that this was a better museum day than a gallery-hopping day.  Still, we stopped by to see an interesting show at Stephen Friedman gallery, which for the month of May has become the Galerie de l'Epoque, a fictional gallery in 1948 Paris showing original small-scale works by artists like Paul Klee, Picasso, Jaun Gris and others.  Salon-style, it includes a superb selection of period furniture and decorative objects.  Our favorites included (for me) a grouping of three wonderfully eccentric vessels by Andrew Lord (though what's he doing here, in 1948?) and (for Ellie) a small painting by Giorgio Morandi.

A museum, then...  We were drawn to the Victoria and Albert, a mere three Tube stops away in South Kensington, by the exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, which we'd been told was not to be missed.  Alas, when we got to the ticket desk we discovered that the show was sold out for the day.  I brandished my international critics' press card, and would have been allowed in myself, but the strict British would allow no exception for Ellie.  Sold out means sold out.  That many, and not one more.
The V&A courtyard, in the rain
Disappointed, we made our way past stunning art works from all ages...

... down to the cafeteria, a magnificently over-decorated, cavernous space...

... for a cup of English tea with scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam--a feast the adequately consoled us and sent us on our way to a show called What is Luxury?, which attempts an interesting an complex definition of the term through a display of objects and related texts.  I was, frankly, by this time too tired to pay very close attention.

Back, through wind and rain, to the South Ken Tube station, packed with an incredible museum closing time crowd...

... and from there to our hotel, with a stop at the ticket office in the Underground to claim back the deposits on our Oyster travel cards.  We lounged for a while, with drinks, by the fireplace in the hotel's comfortable lounge, then set off in search of dinner.  We found, about ten minutes' walk away, The Enterprise, a bustling, pleasantly noisy bar and restaurant, and enjoyed an excellent, hot bowl of soup, a salad, and a small, savory tart.  A good find.

And got back to our room in decent time for a relatively early night.

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