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9:35am on Thursday, 14th May, 2015:



While I was in London yesterday, I had a look around the Tate. I was planning on looking round the British Museum, but I'd had an earlier meeting in the day with Yarden Yaroshevski of StikiPixels about an art game/sim he's been working on for a couple of years. Yarden kept complaining about the Tate, and it must be 10 years since I was last in there so I thought I'd take a look.

Hmm, I take his point. The right half of the building is pretty well all modern art that you might expect to see in Tate Modern but not in Tate Britain (which is where I went). The modern stuff took up a lot of space and wasn't really all that special anyway. Here's an example of what I mean:

OK, so that's a nice idea: it's like a saggy mattress made out of nibbled toast. Toast being somewhat perishable, though, the whole exhibit is kept in a large, sealed glass case. Fair enough, we wouldn't want any children getting at it. Only, what's that down there on the floor in the front?

It's a dead spider. This is a sealed case containing a toast mattress and a dead spider. Is the spider part of the exhibit or not? If it is, well perhaps a few hundred properly attuned art students may be able to tell why it's there, but the reason is lost on me. If it isn't part of the exhibit, there's a problem with the glass case and visitors are over-reading the whole exhibit.

This is Tracy Emin's Bed:

It looked a bit too positioned to me, but then the exhibit has been moved and mussed up so many times that I suppose that's understandable. I don't think much of it myself as a work of art, but one thing about it did quite surprise me: it's much shorter than I was expecting. I don't know how tall Tracy Emin is, but if I had to sleep in a bed that size my feet would be over the bottom edge every night.

The left part of the gallery is where the more traditional paintings are. These are mainly by British artists (with the National Gallery housing paintings by artists of other nationalities). One room contains two of my favourite paintings, which I'll show you just so you can mock my outdated tastes.

The first is Ophelia, by Sir John Everett Millais:

It's more vibrant close up than it is in the reproductions. The expression on Ophelia's face is incredible:

Of course, if you have your model lie in a bath of cold water for so long that she nearly dies of pneumonia, you're going to get that look.

The second is The Lady of Shalott, by John William Waterhouse:

This painting is consistently voted the public's favourite in surveys, which must annoy art critics something crazy. Just look at the detail on her mantle, though:

She's cursed to look at the world through a mirror, weaving on her loom what she sees. One day, she sees Sir Lancelot riding by, oblivious. Smitten, and knowing it will kill her, she looks out from her tower to gaze on him directly — without the mirror. She takes her boat on the river to Camelot, hoping she'll get there before she dies so she can gaze upon Sir Lancelot just one more time. She doesn't make it. The expression on her face just captures her situation perfectly.

Just so you don't think I'm only interested in soon-to-be-dead women on rivers facing right, here's a painting I like that isn't especially famous:

It's Hearts are Trumps, again by Millais. What I love about this is that the woman on the right has a face of absolute disgust, showing her hand to the artist as if to say "Look at this rubbish!". When you look at what she's holding, though:

If hearts are trumps, that's actually pretty damned good! She's bluffing her opponents. Note that the cards are square-edged, unturned (the JH has its pip on the right, not the left) and there are no indeces. Cards were only turned in the mid-1860s, and this was exhibited first in 1872, so they fit the period.

Apparently, Millais was inspired to paint that by this hand-tinted stereographic photo:

The photo is the right pair; I copied the rightmost image and put it on the left so that people who prefer to see stereoscopic pictures by crossing their eyes rather than by looking through (which is the case for me) can get a better look. This is from the collection of Queen guitarist Brian May, by the way, although I don't know who took the original photograph.

I'd have stayed at the Tate longer but my second meeting of the day was over in Canary Wharf so I had to leave at 5pm. Just as well, because I got on a Northern Line train that all the signs said was a Northern Line train but turned out to be a Victoria Line train, so my journey took longer than I had hoped it would...

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Copyright © 2015 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).