Monday, 17 August 2009

Can and contents

Some of what we experienced in London last weekend made me wonder about contemporary culture. Would we really throng to the vast and sumptuous Saatchi Gallery, for instance, to see those enormous American abstract works of art (they seemed utterly baffling and indeed hideous to me), were it not free to enter and a mere stone's throw from Sloane Square station?

Ditto, the Telling Tales show at the V. & A. This again has a sumptuous setting (as the V. & A. is looking splendid these days). The pieces of furniture etc. on display are - we are told - known as Design Art: "they retain their role as functional objects, even if their usability is often subordinated to their symbolic or decorative value," in the words of the handout. So, we see two large blobs of red urethane on the floor with the title "The Lovers' rug," the urethane representing the average quantity of blood in two people. Cosy?

I was pleased to be able to get to the Serpentine Gallery for the first time: what a great space, and how lovely to be able to look out from it over Kensington Gardens! I admired too this Summer's temporary pavilion outside, by Kazuyo Sejima & Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA. But the exhibition? Jeff Koons has been working on a Popeye series over the past seven years: we are therefore treated to an array of huge, lurid cartoons, and brightly-coloured sculpture - something for instance looking like a rubber ring, crushed between a pile of plastic chairs, but which is in fact made of aluminium. Entertaining, and skillful work, but life-enhancing?

Certainly not in the way the BP Portrait exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery was. As usual, it was fun to criticise the judges' choice of prizewinners, but here there was plenty to admire and be grateful for. Interestingly, very few were self-portraits this year.

In the evening, we went again to the Tête à Tête Opera Festival at the Riverside. Here, the surroundings are none too luxurious for contemporary opera; but was this opera? I enjoyed it last year, for its novelty and nerve; but this year it was just tiresome. Four pieces over the two nights, and none worth repeating, was my view. Even a rather charming piece by Glyndebourne Youth Opera, "Who am I?"

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