Monday, October 27, 2008

England, part 6: Looking at London from the Tate Modern; Aren't birds brilliant!

View from the chimney of the Tate Modern

I followed up the Tate Britain with a visit to the Tate Modern the next day. I loved the eclectic collection; I was particularly mesmerized by the room of portraits by mid-20th-century West African photographer Seydou Keïta, and by a room in which all four walls, from floor to 20-foot ceiling, were covered with original Soviet propaganda posters. And the Tate's worth visiting for the building alone, a former power station with a vast Turbine Hall at its centre and a 99-metre-tall chimney, from which you get the spectacular city view in the photo above.

The Thames Festival was on, and the riverfront was crowded with people. Directly in front of the gallery, a bandstand and outdoor dance floor had been set up, and a beginners' tango lesson was in progress. I snapped some photos from the chimney with my zoom lens.

Tangoing Londoners

In front of the gallery, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds had set up a booth & were explaining to people that a pair of peregrine falcons had built a nest way, way up in the chimney. There were binoculars at the booth through which you could look at the nest, though both of the falcons were off hunting when I was there. This was one of a series of RSPB events called "Aren't Birds Brilliant!" You really have to say that out loud with a British accent.

I walked to the British Museum after that; I've been before, and I got there only 30 minutes before it closed this time, but I love the British Museum and it was good to spend a little while poking about in the Enlightenment Gallery. There was a big exhibition on about the Emperor Hadrian, and it was "Roman Life" day at the museum; people dressed as centurions were wandering around having their photos taken with tourists.

Photoset here.

Next: getting lost on Hampstead Heath.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

England, part 5: London! Portobello Road, and the first Tate


I took a coach into London on Thursday, did some laundry in my hostel that night, and set out Friday morning. This was my third time in London; I seem to wind up there about once every ten years. I've seen the big tourist draws before: Tower Bridge, St. Paul's, Buckingham Palace. This time, I headed first for Portobello Road. Looked at lovely piles of ephemera and junk; bought a china phrenology head! I am going to put it in my office next term & scare my students with it. Here is what it looks like now, ensconced on my bookshelf at home:

The phrenology head at home

I'd seen ads in the Tube for a big Francis Bacon exhibition that had just opened in the Tate Britain, so I went there next. The permanent collection closed earlier, so I looked at that first. I was standing in the big central hall when a guy in running shorts went tearing past me at top speed, vanishing around a corner at the end. I thought, "Well, that was odd," then when it happened again 30 seconds later I thought, "Aha! Art." I asked a nearby guard about it, and he explained that indeed, the sprinters were part of Martin Creed's Work No. 850. I stood for a few minutes & watch them sprint through at regular intervals. It was pretty great: a nice conceptual counterpoint to all the gorgeous yet static Turners and Rossettis in the galleries.

After that I wandered through the Bacon exhibit. Large canvases of screaming eyeless popes and mashed chimpanzees. This being only the second night, and a Friday, the exhibition was well-attended. There were a few tourists in windbreakers, walking through silently, having run out of things to talk to talk about with their travelling companions; a lot of giddy boys in tight t-shirts, flinging their arms around each other; middle-aged men unremarkably holding hands.

The electricity went out for several minutes. Only the last of the daylight, filtering through the skylights, illuminated the gallery. The handful of tourists were all "What's happening? What's going on?" but the Londoners seemed to take it in stride, like they're used to things fucking up randomly on a regular basis. Soon enough the lights came back on.

All my England pics, including more from Portobello Road, here.

Next: The view from the Tate Modern.

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