Monday, 12 January 2015

Keeping Up With The Jones & The McKellen

Something I've wanted to do for a while was to visit the Allen Jones retrospective at the Royal Academy. I've always loved the unashamed colourful eroticism of his work, particularly Table and other sensually posed mannequins. So after breakfast in The Wolseley (bacon sandwich on the back seat of a Hornet) we drifted slowly down Piccadilly in the bright morning light to the RA. One distinct advantage of getting up at five o'clock for this kind of visit to London is that you can drive down the motorway relatively unimpeded by traffic, drive through Regent's Park at dawn with giraffes and penguins waking up and then as it's Sunday park virtually where you like all day for nothing.

After I'd had inappropriate thoughts looking at the girl with the glass table on her back we wandered into the first of the main galleries to be confronted by the above. I'd never seen it before, and it knocked me sideways. This is Male Female Diptych, 1965, and I could've stared at its immense size for a long time. Until it occurred to me just how badly lit it was. As indeed, apart from a room filled with mannequins, was everything else. I understand that paintings should be kept out of sunlight, but surely galleries must have lighting rigs that fully illuminate pictures properly? I brought the subject up with what I supposed was an 'attendant' (when due to her immobility I'd first mistook her for an exhibit). She a) appeared to have no view whatever and b) also appeared not to understand anything I said. So I moved down a flight of stairs to another room where an older woman looked as though she was openly seething at having to circulate amongst so many fetishistic fantasies. Either that or she'd taken exception to my Routemaster bus seat patterned scarf. I said nothing. My third attempt was with a chap who said "This stuff really isn't my thing" and nodded us towards the exit. The girl in the mini shop was more forthcoming, but still couldn't help us. So we're still in the dark.

Far more welcoming was our pit stop in Limehouse. I hadn't been in The Grapes in Narrow Street for a long time, but thankfully so little has changed. The Thames at high tide (and low come to that) is right outside, there's the good natured hubbub of a Sunday lunchtime and the beer's good. It's part-owned by Sir Ian McKellen, who must surely find the wooden stairs to the upper floor a bit narrow for his wizard's hat.  


Stephen Barker said...

Peter, You were being a bit optimistic in expecting the gallery staff to know anything about how the exhibition is displayed.
There job is to ensure that you do not touch the works of art or steal them, etc.
Perhaps the low light levels was to preserve the works for future generations.
The only exhibition I recall being in the dark at the RA was the Byzantine one, which was rather dull.

Peter Ashley said...

Thing is Stephen, there wasn't anybody else to ask at that time in the morning. And if we're going to have low light levels in order to see such colourful works as Allen Jones' then we might as well just put them in the storeroom and stare at them in books or online. At least that way we shall hopefully read some informative scholarship about them, and we won't have to inconvenience art galleries anymore.

Anonymous said...

Best left under the stairs I say.
Phyllis Stein.

Anonymous said...

A Jones is a Jones is a Jones.
Gertrude Stein.

Stephen Barker said...


I share your feelings I have encountered some extreme attitudes to lighting levels at National Trust properties. At one site despite the fact it was raining hard outside and the sun was not shining the curtains in the room were kept closed. When we suggested that the curtains were opened so that we could see some tapestries that were a feature of the site we were told that they had to be protected from extreme light levels. The steward said if we wanted to see the tapestries we should have come on a sunnier day. As we were on holiday in Cornwall a repeat visit was not likely.Fortunately the guide book had very good colour photos, but it was very disappointing.
By comparison Harewood House seems to have no problem in lighting the interiors so that visitors can see the paintings and furniture.

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