The search for Courage continues, London 2

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Rob Matthews continues his London report

Tuesday July 27, 2004

The Radisson provides a “traditional English breakfast” which I interpreted as Rice Krispies and coffee. I wasn’t in the mood for soggy meat and beans at 7:45.

An hour later, Tracy was roped into her conference room. “LIVE FOR ME!” she screamed as the door slammed shut.

I decided to walk to the Tate Modern (image) rather than take the subway so I can see more of the city. 45 minutes later I arrive at the Tate having seen a river bank, the ever-present Eye and a homeless guy with a bongo drum. It seems I flew around the planet only to find Edward Hopper waiting for me. The Tate had a retrospective for him on display as well as a Luc Tuymans show.

The Hopper show was great and thorough–pieces from his rather crappy period when he was trying to emulate Manet in Paris and all the hotel pieces and interiors that Hitchcock showed me how to love. Even though biographies suggest he was a prick, I obviously get into Hopper’s work- his examination of his marriage, isolation of the figure etc. I just prefer to show isolated figures all burned up or something like that- minor difference. I check “see Office at Night in person” off my list of things to do before I die.

I went through the Luc Tuymans show faster than Hopper. Even a retrospective of his work remains fragmented and dry. Hits and misses are present more so than Hopper but he also takes more chances than Hopper. His “laser tag arena” painting from a couple of years ago satisfies me. I’ve only seen two Tuymans shows in my life. They both had “The Diagnostic View IV” in them.

I breezed the rest of the museum. No offense to Larry Becker but if you’ve seen one Rothko or Olitski you have seen them all.

My friend Sarah and I were cleaning the modern section of the PMA one day [ed note. Matthews’ day job is as an art duster at the PMA] and noticed that most of the Cubist and early AbEx work looks older and in worse condition than the medieval work. Not “older” in an outdated way, but older in a “falling apart because they used crappy materials” way. The Tate’s collection proved to suffer under the same problems.

The Beuys installation is large and interesting and I wish I had a photo of it, but alas I forgot to take one. I took a few shots of the entryway to get the Louise Bourgeois “spider”. (spider shown)

After this I walked back another 40 minutes to the National Gallery. Lunched on some sort of pita sandwich along the way. I sat in front of Holbein’s “The Ambassadors” painting for about 20-25 minutes until I felt my actions bordered on idolatry, sat in the darkened room that holds Leonardo’s cartoon for 15-20 minutes, studied some Chardins, van Eycks, Poussins, Velazquezs, Titians… you get the point, it’s a good museum. I also was able to confirm my suspicions that I don’t like the way Pissarro paints figures but love his landscapes and cityscapes.

After walking in a panicked circle for about 30 minutes I finally found Titian’s “Bacchus and Ariadne.” By “circle” I mean I literally walked around every gallery that surrounded the gallery that held Titian. Somehow I kept missing it over and over again.

I hit the gift shop and bought what I think amounts to $40 worth of postcards. It took me a day or two to remember how weak the dollar is compared to the pound.

With the short time remaining in the afternoon, I walked to the Saatchi Gallery. I knew it would be Sensations Redux but decided to go anyway. Hirst, Mueck, Emin, Turk, Chapman, etc. YBA to the extreme.

The highlight was Richard Wilson’s “20:50” (the room filled with motor oil). Smelled awful, looked beautiful.

There was also a “meteorite” made out of “rats” by David Falconer called “Vermin Death Star” that stood out from the work I had not seen before.

Marc Quinn’s self-portrait in blood, recast after Saatchi’s girlfriend unplugged it last year, is suffering from freezer burn (or “protective ice” as Debbie Reynolds says in the Albert Brooks movie, “Mother”). Not as nice as it used to be.

Hirst’s shark looks like it did not survive all of its travels well. The skin is not long for this world.

I left and watched people jump on trampolines outside the gallery (image above) while hooked up to harnesses to allow them to safely bounce up and down without flying off into the Thames. It seemed a fitting departure from the Saatchi Collection.

Tracy’s boss took us out to dinner to a different fish-n-chips place. This one had a “master fryer”. I’m not sure I tasted the difference but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe my palette is not sensitive enough to pick up on the subtleties of fried cod. Once again, no Courage beer so I had a Stella Artois instead.

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