Trashing the Tate

dowbrigade at the tateHere in London, the only place we see panic and dismay at the recent rash of attempted car bombings in Great Britain is on the softly glowing screens of the Toshiba TV in our London flat and our trusty laptop. Newscasters here are calling the plot the “Doctor Bombers.” Puts a whole new spin on Michael Moore’s “Sicko.”

In the streets of London, life goes on pretty much as usual. People walking their dogs, hustling down streets and lanes burdened under bags and boxes. Sweet secretaries, harried clerks named Clive, adolescent riff-raff looking as indolent as possible, students and soccer players and tons and tons of tourists, each in their own world, chatting on the phone, plugged into iPods or jiving with friends, nobody seems to be worrying about terrorism.

Which is probably not surprising. To a dyslexic Yank, the most dangerous thing on London’s street is the traffic. It seems to come from all sides. Yes, we are aware that they drive on the left on this side of the pond, but in addition to that drivers fly around corners with seeming total disregard for inattentive pedestrians.

The attitude in the street seems more akin to Latin America, where anyone who can’t afford a car had better watch out, than to Harvard Square, where drivers pussyfoot and crawl around corners out of fear of running over a Kennedy scion or the future King of Moldavia.

Adding to the degree of difficulty, use of turn signals seems to be optional, and parking, even on major thoroughfares, is allowed in either direction, facing or following the flow of traffic, resulting in drivers cutting suddenly across lanes to snag choice parking spots. And yet, despite the chaotic conditions and numerous near-misses, we have yet to witness an actual accident.

However, today, on the way to the Tate Modern, we were almost flattened by a diaper delivery vehicle, which careened around the corner in front of Christopher Wren’s masterpiece St. Paul’s Cathedral and practically plastered us to a bollard as we were trying to take a snapshot of a tugboat on the Thames.

Had we been taken to Hospital directly from that unfortunate incident, we wouldn’t have missed much. The building housing the museum, a mammoth former power plant, is impressive, but once inside we had trouble telling the actual art from empty display cases, electrical fixtures in the walls and various apparently abandoned satchels and packages which don’t seem to bother anyone much in this terror-prone city. Guess that means they must be art.

There was an entire exhibit of “found object” art, meaning all sorts of trash and common objects which were somehow magically transubstantiated into “art” because some so-called “artist” slapped a name tag and a price tag on them.

Truth be told, the Dowbrigade has never really “gotten” modern art. In fact, we consider it to a pretentious refuge for talentfree wannabes who couldn’t draw a dollar sign yet insisted that they were creative talents on the scale of a da Vinci or Donatello.

We don’t consider much of anything post-Impressionism more than pop culture or passing curiosity, and since the Tate Modern seemed to start around 1900, there wasn’t much power in the plant for our taste.

One exception to our general disinterest in 20th century art is surrealism. We had hopefully noted that the Tate is currently featuring a special exhibit on Dali and film. Upon arriving at the museum, however, we discovered that the Special Exhibit had a Special Price of 12 pounds ($24), and, adding insult to injury, the powers that be had removed EVERY SINGLE DALI from the permanent collection and rehung them in the restricted admission area.

After an hour of wandering around among works we were unable to even categorize as art, we ordered a five-dollar cup of tea at one of the poshly-priced cafes strategically situated around the museum, and found an empty seat near the door where more affluent and discerning patrons were exiting the Dali film exhibit. Perhaps, we reflected, as a failed artist , we were unable to respect any art we could have conceivably created ourself.

Every time the big exit door to the Special Exhibit opened, we could see a large Dali oil handing tantalizingly at an acute angle on a wall beyond. It was the closest we got all day to seeing a work we really wanted to see.

See the Dowbrigade’s Photos from England

About dowbrigade

Semi-retired academic from Harvard, Boston University, Fulbright Commission, Universidad Laica Eloy Alfaro de Manta, currently columnist for El Diario de Portoviejo and La Marea de Manta.
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One Response to Trashing the Tate

  1. Rashad says:

    Sweet! Very interesting story.

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