I wasn’t at my best today because I am starting a cold and feeling under the weather. When Tigger suggested going out and proposed two destinations, I choose the one I thought would require the least effort, physically and mentally.
“You’ll hate it,” declared Tigger.
"We’ll see," said I.
We caught a couple of buses and found ourselves at Sloane Square. We went into Pret A Manger (no accents, please, we’re British) for a cup of coffee. Predictably, the place was crowded but we found a corner to sit.
We then walked along to where this gentleman stands upon his plinth looking rather pleased with himself, as well he might. This is not Sloane Square, but Duke of York’s Square, where the Duke of York’s HQ stands. Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) was born in Killyleagh, County Down, and became a great collector of natural history objects, so great in fact, that his collection later became the foundation of the British Museum. He also helped popularize the drinking of that new-fangled beverage, chocolate.
Today, Sir Hans is probably remembered by most people for his London properties. He purchased the Manor of Chelsea in 1712, setting up the Chelsea Physic Garden, and his name is perpetuated in at least 7 London place names, including Sloane Square, Sloane Street and Sloane Gardens. The sculpture, dated 2007, is by Simon Smith.
Nearby is the modest gate leading into the grounds of the Duke of York’s HQ. Built in 1801, it was first known as the Royal Military Asylum, a school for the children of deceased soldiers, and later, as the Duke of York’s Royal Military School. It continued in various military uses until early this century when it was sold to be redeveloped as a public square, upmarket housing and retail outlets. Part of it is occupied by the Saatchi Gallery, one of London’s strongholds of modern art.
Perhaps you now understand why Tigger said I would hate it: I always approach modern art with trepidation. I have nothing against modern art simply on the basis of it being modern and I have seen some art which is modern that I like very much. It remains a fact, though, that much modern art induces in me feelings of futility and pointlessness, especially when the works are accompanied by descriptions written in “art speak” that are supposed to justify them when it fact they do nothing of the sort and simply make the artist and the works sound ridiculously pretentious.
If I had liked the art more, I would have noted the details of the works I photographed but instead I just wandered through and took photos here and there. (Yes! The Saatchi allows photography!) So I will post these images without captions.
The Saatchi is arranged as a set of numbered galleries which you follow in numerical order, aided by arrows pointing the way. (You don’t have to do this: you can go your own way if you prefer.) The route takes you from the ground floor up to the second and third.
I gather that some people found these bent cars shocking, if for no other reason than that "It’s a waste of a good car". To anyone who has done a lot of driving, as I have, in France, where drivers have a proclivity for wrapping their cars around stationery objects, often with themselves inside, these works seem somewhat familiar. At least you can see what they are supposed to be, unlike some of the works on show.
I found some of these works sinister, when not gruesome, but, then again, who am I to say that that was not the effect that the artist intended? One should not dismiss an artwork just because one would not wish to have it hanging on one’s dining room wall. On the other hand, I do have wonder at the state of mind that produced some of these visions.
Some of these objects induce a vague feeling of familiarity as though you could almost recognize what it represents. others appear to come from a dream or, more likely, a nightmare, so that you feel like walking quickly away rather than approaching. Is this intentional or just my over-sensitivity and dislike of ugliness, especially of deliberately created and gratuitous ugliness?
Curiously enough, I quite liked this piece, perhaps because I love colours and because it looks as if it is something with a purpose even if you can’t quite think what that might be.
There is something creepy about these birkas despite the fact that they are covered with colourful product labels (the same few repeated again and again). Perhaps it’s because they are empty but you can see dots of light through the eye-slits like ghostly eyes. I am sure there is some deep symbolism about the birkas being so colourful but have no idea what it might be.
I find this one of the more nightmarish exhibits. Perhaps it is because the babies are dressed in shroud-like white and you cannot see whether they are dead or merely sleeping; also, the fact they are all identical as if seen in a hall of mirrors; finally, and not least, because there is a steel blade – sword? bayonet? – protruding from the base of each enwrapped child.
Here you can learn about the artists, if you have the time, the interest and the patience to do so. Otherwise you can treat the visit to the gallery as a stroll in a rather strange park, as I did.
The building itself was not without interest. I imagine that the interior was gutted and reformed. The result is a number of interesting perspectives with staircases and walkways and glass partitions.
Stairway to Heaven? No, but to somewhere interesting, certainly.
A landing seen through a partition or internal window.
Looking up a stairwell.
What did I think of the works exhibited in the Saatchi Gallery? I thought some of them were rubbish. Not that there is anything particularly unusual about that as much modern art, celebrated by the critics and exhibited in famous galleries is rubbish. Other works were, well, shall we say "interesting"? When, I wonder, will modern art end its sterile flirtation with meaninglessness and get back to producing works that we can all identify with and find both enjoyable and meaningful?
We took a bus to Piccadilly and stopped for coffee here, in a cafe called Cilantro. Despite being in Piccadilly, it was nearly empty, perhaps because the espresso machine was broken. We had filter coffee instead. Perhaps because there were so few people, I found it a pleasant and unusual cafe and may well return there.
This building was once occupied by the Institute of Painters in Water Colours which later, by favour of Queen Victoria, became the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours. It was founded in 1831 as the New Society of Painters in Water Colours in competition with the Royal Water Colour Society.
Having changed its name to the Institute of Painters in Water Colours, the society acquired the Piccadilly premises in 1883 and, two years later, the royal accolade from the Queen. When the lease on the building ran out in 1970, the Royal Institute moved to the Mall Galleries at Carlton House Terrace.
Owing to road works, one side of the carriageway in Piccadilly is closed. That’s a nuisance for the traffic by very pleasant for us, allowing more space to wander and better positions for photographing buildings. It was interesting to notice that most people stayed on the pavement, despite the lack of traffic!
In the declining evening light, we took a look at the Church of St James. It was built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1684 and its records boast of the baptism here of the infant future poet and painter, William Blake.
The building was severely damaged by bombing in the Second World War but was carefully restored, the work being completed in 1954, preserving many of the church’s cherished features.
We didn’t go inside the church but contented ourselves with a look around the exterior. One of the sadder vestiges is this row of memorial plaques on the wall. They are so worn by time and weather that I was unable to read more than a word here and there. Sad too that a notice needs to be affixed near them, reading “Consumption of Alcohol is not Permitted in the Church Garden or Courtyard” (interesting capitalization).
It was getting late and I was feeling the effects of my worsening cold so the idea of getting a bus home was becoming very attractive. First, however, I wanted a photo of this modest little drinking fountain set into the outside of the church wall. Its simple dedication, in gold lettering just below the canopy, reads
EASTER DAY 1896
Was this the May Morrisand Laura Lyttelton painted and memorialized by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones who died two years later in 1898?
Update November 1st 2011
If you are interested in the Saatchi Gallery or have been there yourself, you may like the video whose URL is given below. The art works differ in places from from what we saw on our visit but many pieces are the same.