Saturday, 12 December 2009


11/12/09, Royal Academy

Last night of the blockbuster exhibition, apparently the most successful by a living artist ever staged at the RA. They were queuing for an hour and a half in the Burlington House courtyard; luckily D had booked timed tickets in advance so we skipped the queue in the cold, though we still had to queue for the cloakroom and the final room, in which a large cannon fired a slug of red wax into a corner of the room every 20 minutes (we missed the firing).

Entertaining but not especially profound. There was a miniature version of the trumpet at Tate Modern in the first room in rusty metal (or possibly fibreglass meant to look like rusty metal: I obeyed the notices and didn't touch). I say "small", but it filled the space.

The next room was filled with structures made from gobbets, chunks and extruded sausage-like lengths of potter's clay, mainly pale grey. Each stood on a pallet. Some looked like great piles of wormcasts, others huge piles of pooh. Some looked like towering sand castles.

There was a room with a huge twisted trumpet with a shining dark red vulva-like opening, the tubing made of pale fibreglass with lines drawn on it to look like the borders of prefabricated panels or a technical draughtsman's sketches.

There was a room with exceedingly sharp giant distorting mirrors. You could see yourself looking short and fat, alarmingly large (about 10pc bigger than life-size, enough to be quite disconcertign), upside down. There was one which turned everyone into thin strips of colour: a shame it was winter, when so many people wear black; it would have been more effective if we'd all been wearing brightly-coloured summer kit. A funfair hall of mirrors for the arty classes.

Stretching all the way from end to end of the four rear galleries was a red wax trackway carrying a great block of equally red wax carved so it just fitted through the three monumental doorways en route and moving at 6mm a second (or something: very slowly, anyway).

Most disappointing was the last room, with three-dimensional geometric shapes covered in incredibly bright red and yellow and blue powder paint.

We were out in 40 minutes. If I were being kind I'd say it had a wonderful charm and innocence and playfulness, which depended for its impact on its size and shininess. If I were being unkind I'd say it was glib and superficial.

Update (a few days later)

A and Dr T, it turns out, had both seen the exhibition. Both were pretty contemptuous. A thought the cannon in the final room ridiculously phallic, and told us only men had been hired to fire it. Words like "superficial" were used. A fraud on the paying public was hinted at. I didn't think it THAT bad, but I could see their point.

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