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From Tate to Tate

August 6, 2022

As soon as I opened my door this morning, my boyfriend Buster came in, laid down on the carpet, stretched his hind legs straight out behind him and commenced what looked for all the world like floor swimming with his front legs. Odd, but cute. Only when I mentioned this to Rowan did I discover this is how he gives his wee willy a good rub. Greeted with a wank. Nice.

I do have places to go and paintings to see today, but before I head into town I need to have a wander around Deptford market which is, on a Saturday, in full swing.

Walthamstow, where I lived for a few years in the 2000s, has the longest street market in (I believe) Europe, filled with impossibly cheap fruit and veg and, as I once described it, clothes you’d never wear at a price you can afford. It may be the longest, but for pure tat it cannot hold a candle to Deptford.

And then there’s this photo I simply could not resist taking. 

Time to move on.

There are two Tates in London. 

There’s the original, Victorian-era gallery in Pimlico which boasts one of if not the biggest collections of Turners, as well as a very sizeable collection of Pre-Raphaelites. This is where, in the late 1970s, I first saw and fell in love with this painting.

Then there’s the old converted power station which was turned into Tate Modern. When the latter opened in 2000, the former was renamed Tate Britain. I can’t be dealing with that. There’s the Tate (or at a pinch the original Tate) and Tate Modern.

Anyway, when I was back living in London in the 2000s I took out a Tate membership, because you were getting two for the price of one (four if you include the Tates in Liverpool and St. Ives), compared with a membership at the National or the Royal Academy. And, as it wasn’t much more, I got a member plus guest membership.

If you went to four exhibitions a year the membership paid for itself and, as I always went to every exhibition, even the ones which would not otherwise have particularly appealed, I definitely got my money’s worth.

My friend Becky was my most frequent guest. When I moved from London back to the island in May 2010, I realised my Tate membership card was still in my wallet. More than half a year on it with no refund option. So I stuck it in with a card and posted it to her. She’s maintained a membership ever since. Whenever I go back to London we always hit at least one of the Tates. Today we’re doing both.

Train to London Bridge, then a walk that takes me past the Golden Hind…

… and the Globe.

I meet Becky and we head into the Surrealism exhibition at Tate Modern. According to the gallery’s website: “This landmark exhibition will rewrite the history of the revolutionary art movement. Surrealism is not a style – but a state of mind. It aims to subvert reality. To find the uncanny in the everyday. To tap into our unconscious desires and bring dreams to life. And for many artists around the world, it has been a way to challenge authority and imagine a new world.” Okay.

Somehow I miss the room that has the one Dali, but I do run into my old friend Magritte.

There you go.

I did not know how widespread the surrealist movement was nor did I know (although I probably should have guessed) that it was heavily inspired by Freud (’cos that always works well). Or that there were a large number of female artists who were quite admired in their day. 

This I found less surprising.

My cup of tea? No, not really. But then I didn’t think the 2009 Futurism exhibition would be either and I bloody loved that. Went at least four times with different people. Always worth a punt.

I did love this one because of the piss take element of the artist using a cheesy old Alps painting then painting over it.

After the exhibition it was time to take advantage of one of the major perks of membership: lunch in the members lounge – with bottle of rosé, bien sûr – with its stunning view across the Thames.

There is one more thing I need to do while we’re here.

One of the major features of the permanent collection of the Tate Modern when it opened was the Rothko room. For those unaware of the story, Mark Rothko was commissioned in 1958 to produce a series of canvases which would hang in the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram’s building in Manhattan. Creating these canvasses and Rothko’s ultimate decision to walk away from the commission is the basis of an excellent play called Red which was performed here on the island last year and featured my friends Tom as Rothko and Ray as his assistant. Instead of allowing his work to hang in a restaurant, in 1970 the artist donated some of the paintings to the Tate on the understanding that they would hang near the gallery of paintings by Turner, an artist whom Rothko greatly admired. Rothko had very precise specifications for the dimensions, colour and lighting of the room in which his work should be seen – specifications which could not be completely met at the original Tate. And so it was decided when Tate Modern was under construction that this exact room would be created. 

It has to be said it was a very special space. Neither Tom nor Ray have ever seen the actual paintings, so I felt honour bound to say hello on their behalf.

As we were leaving the members lounge I asked the lovely bloke on the desk where the Rothkos were. “Tate Britain,” he said. Convinced I’d misheard him, I asked again, this time referring to the “Rothko room”. He repeated his answer. The Rothkos were now residing in Pimlico. Just as well we were heading there next.

On the way from one Tate to the other we paused at Westminster to say hello to Mrs. Pankhurst.

Becky, who was also happy to say hello, informed me that Mrs P’s now been branded a racist. Hmm. Well, she was a woman of her time and class. Yes, she thought the British Empire was a good thing. So too at that time did most Brits of every class. She also thought eugenics might be a good thing. So too did many other high profile figures, including Helen Keller (I kid you not) and “the greatest Canadian of all time” Tommy Douglas. Future generations will look back on this one and shake their heads in disbelief. The woman still deserves a pat on the plaque.

The main exhibition at the Tate is the Walter Sickert. I was familiar with some of his paintings and under the impression I quite liked his work. After touring the show I’m not so sure. There’s some pretty dark stuff there. 

Dark enough that I was quite pleased to learn that in later life he was reduced to producing paintings of famous people based on press photographs.

Time now to pop into the relocated Rothko room. It simply does not have the same atmosphere it had in Tate Modern. 

Still, I get Becky to snap a pic, which I quickly post on Facebook for Tom and Ray. Tom quickly replies with a quote from the play: “Do they move, breathe, float in space?” I reply: “They hang on the wall.” I get a laughing emoji back.

Back in the 2000s when I was a regular visitor to both galleries there could be no denying that members did better at the Modern when it came to lounges. Bright, airy, fantastic views across the river. Meanwhile in Pimlico, members could have a cup of tea in a poky little room with no windows at all. Happily they’ve upped their game. It has now moved upstairs to the Rotunda and is lovely. Time for afternoon tea.

As you can see, Becky and I are on different sides of the scone debate: she’s jam first and I’m cream first.

It’s nearly closing time when we finish our tea. I dash off to where I am certain I will find the Lady of Shallot and other Pre-Raphaelite favourites. Turns out my instinct was wrong. Oh, well. Next time, ladies.

Au revoir to Becky, whom I will see again on Monday for our other favourite London pastime. We’ve done a lot of walking.

Back in Deptford. I do a Google search on Sickert and come across this article. Holy shit! There was some actual speculation that the artist could have been Jack the Ripper and ample evidence that he fantasised that he was. Dark doesn’t cover it. He really put the sick in Sickert.

From → UK 2022

One Comment
  1. Susan Yates permalink

    I think you should keep that Boyfriend Buster – sounds like my kinda guy…plus he has a good name. And I miss Marks & Sparks undies…

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