Last Wednesday, we decided to have a Tate à Tate – an exploration of the Tate Britain in the morning and the Tate Modern in the afternoon. The Tate Britain was listing a show on “The Romantics”, which ended up as mostly a show on Turner. It was wonderful to see so many Turners, and to see the evolution of his style, but it was a bit disappointing not to see some of the others of the period. After a little pub lunch down the road we decided to go back to the gallery in hunt of Pre-Raphaelites. We were rewarded with a few of our most favourite pieces (some with a definite flair for the “Elegant Gothic Lolita” — see Camden Town!) – Millais’ Mariana and his Ophelia, Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott, Brune-Jones’ The Golden Stairs (looking for all the world like the angels out for a union break), and the magnificent Singer Sargent portrait of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, which is enormous and vigourous. It is larger than life and full of passion, as she was.
After we had feasted on those paintings, we hopped onto a river ferry to take us to the Tate Modern. The Tate runs a ferry between the two galleries and it really is the most wonderful way to journey down the river, past the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, the Globe. The city was built on the Thames, and being on the river connects you to centuries of commerce and trade.
When Tim & I go to galleries, we split up and agree to meet later. We both have different things we are interested in, and this way we have things to share when we meet up — “Did you see the … ?!” is usually how it starts.
“Did you see the Sunflower Seeds?” said Tim. “Did you see the Staircase?” I countered.
“Sunflower Seeds” by Al Weiwei is a huge pile of what seem to be millions of sunflower seeds on the floor of the gallery. However, each seed is hand-made of porcelain, combining the idea of mass production (so deeply associated with China) and individual craftsmanship. Sunflower seeds are a common snack in China, but carry associations with the Cultural Revolution, when propaganda posters depicted Chairman Mao as the sun and the masses of people as sunflowers turning towards him. Weiwei also remembers sharing sunflower seeds as a gesture of compassion in a time of extreme poverty. “Your own acts and behaviour tell the world who you are and at the same time what kind of society you think it should be” Ai Weiwei
“Staircase – III”, by Do Ho Suh, is a polyester and wire installation that takes over a whole room. A perfectly made fabric staircase hangs in the centre of the room, complete with balustrade, electrical sockets and light fixtures. It hangs from a transparent fabric “floor” above, through which the balustrade can be seen. The staircase hovers tantalizingly above your head, opening out to a door in the middle of the air.
We left as the gallery closed at 6:00. It was a lovely afternoon and we walked from the Southbank to Trafalgar Square, heading to the Crypt at St. Martin’s in the Fields. The Crypt has a cafeteria-style restaurant, with good wine, delicious tapas, a great vegetarian mushroom ragout, and Jazz every Wednesday night. This really is an 18th century crypt – the floor is made of gravestones and the beautiful brick arches make for fabulous acoustics for the band. Shanti Paul Jayasinha is a mellow trumpeter, playing original music in an Afro-Cuban and Brazilian style,
and his band suited this intimate venue perfectly. It was one of those nights when I could hear all of the layers in the music. Simple, clean and elegant. A perfect ending to a day of visual feasting.