Don’t go to the V&A.
My hero was meeting some of his online chums at the weekend, to go to a Prom concert in the Albert Hall, so I cadged a ride and nabbed a couple of tickets for the last gasps of the Cult of Beauty exhibition about Aestheticism at the V&A. I’d read mostly good things about it and looked forward to an afternoon of interesting and thought-provoking art in the company of a friend who knows way more about such things than I do.
I met my accomplice and following tradition, gathered the photographic evidence of possibly the one and only occasion during the whole time we were there that we were not elbow to elbow with the world, his wife and his family. Because, of course, it was a horrid, wet, Sunday afternoon and the V&A offered a free, dry and warm place to take the family.
Normally, we’d go straight to visit the fashion and textiles, but they’re closed for renovation right now. Following the advice of a young member of staff, we decided to head up to the Performing Arts section, intrigued by his recommendation that “there are some things worn by famous people up there”.
To get to that part of the museum, we took a route through the contemporary jewellery, my eye being caught by this gorgeous piece of Lalique’s work. The further from the hub of the shop and cafe we went, the quieter it became and our tenacity was rewarded by an almost empty gallery of theatrical bits and pieces.
Empty except for a woman taking endless shots of items in glass cases using the flash on her camera. Irritating.
But this was a fascinating collection of this and that – hard to follow in some ways, because the exhibits were displayed in themes rather than chronologically. But having the luxury of time and space to look closely at some things and walk straight past others, we did exactly that, noting the exhibits referred to by our friend downstairs: outfits worn by Elton John, Edna Everage, Mick Jagger and Adam Ant amongst others. We took a close look at some of the theatre costumes, weighing up the requirements for costumes to be washable, well-constructed with necessary details visible from the back of the stalls. I loved the little notebook full of sketches for stage sets, all annotated on the opposite page.
Oh, and there was Kylie’s dressing room, complete with soft toys, half a dozen pairs of shoes and a whole raft of makeup. (Did I tell you that I sat next to her at Heathrow, once? That she was tiny, looked utterly exhausted but smiled the whole time in spite of constant requests for autographs and photographs…I decided to leave her in peace and resisted!)
My favourite exhibit of all was this notice, pinned to the theatre door by the long-suffering manager whose patience has been tried just once too often by the unreliable Mr Berry.
I wonder what happened to him?
By now, it was time to make our way down to the exhibition space used for temporary shows and, contrary to the hope offered when I booked the tickets (“Oh, you’ll be fine – there’s plenty of availability”) it was a sell out. All day long, a stream of people had passed through those doors into that stuffy little exhibition space and by late afternoon, it was not exactly the most comfortable of places to be. My patience was wearing a little thin, my intolerance of those exhibition-goers who, having acquired an audio tour gadget, clamp it to their ears and become totally unaware of the rest of the world was soaring to record levels and seeing the first few paintings reminded me that I am really not at all fond of the pre-raphaelites. Reading some of the commentary (when I could squeeze myself into a position to be able to do so) it all seemed rather self-indulgent, I thought. Having said that, there were some beautiful decorative pieces, the overall “look” of the show was great and the fine art v decorative art conversation both interesting and illuminating.
But oh my, the people.
Time to go! Thankfully, not to a restaurant packed with tourists or to a place like the V&A cafe where the number of people with trays of food was rather larger than the number of tables at which they could sit. I was lucky to enjoy the comforts of home, to share the Sunday roast and extravagant pudding in the most generous and charming company before making my way back to meet my hero for the ride home.