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:
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.