Wednesday, 8 April 2015

London: the British Museum and Wilton's Music Hall

The bf and I went up to London yesterday.  It was a beautiful spring day when we arrived in the capital and we strolled down from King's Cross station to Lamb's Conduit St, which has a great selection of independent retailers and places to eat.  After lunch we popped into my friend Ben Pentreath's shop 'Pentreath and Hall' which he runs, (along with an architectural and interior design practice) with his business partner Bridie Hall.  It's always a visual treat and a good place for ideas.
From there we went to the British Museum and the exhibition:  'Defining Beauty: the Body in Ancient Greek Art'.  The museum was impossibly crowded, but the exhibition calm.  In fact there was an almost religious air such is the place, the reverence indeed that these sculptures have in the Western Canon.  They are foundational.  And I have to admit the experience was quite moving at times; these statues seemed to exist simultaneously in two planes: the physical and, well, the spiritual.  It was as though they were caught up in their own thoughts, (the contemplation of their own existence), and their presence in our three dimensions was merely incidental.  A lot has been said about the 'humanism of the Greeks' but there was definitely something religious about much of this art.  It mustn't be forgotten that this art was produced in a pre-modern civilization and hence drenched in the religious.  This other-worldly, even transcendent, quality, may however be the consequence of the loss of the original colour, but I'd like to think that this was not the case.  It would be a mistake to believe that this representative art is merely a copy of life: it is not there is something definitely 'artistic', something transformative, in the work.
And before you think that this exhibition was solely about monumental depiction of the divine there was a lot of other work: some of it funny and grotesque, some of it domestic.  I will point you in the direction of the small and exquisite bronzes that dot the exhibition, easily missed in the midst of all that monumental white marble.  What unites them all is the amazing quality of the work.  There was example after example of the most sublime technical virtuosity.  I find it almost incomprehensible that Greek cities were just filled with this stuff; incomprehensible too the cultural explosion that produced this work.  Work that is almost out of time - and hence 'Classical'.
The final room of the exhibition was a slightly strange affair.  All too diffuse.  In one corner a map (the same map as the beginning of the exhibition) showing the extent of Greek civilisation and cultural influence.  This was by no means detailed enough.  By it were two sculptures; a beautiful head of Alexander the Great and a Buddha from Gandhara.  Neither was quite enough, but the culture of the Greeks in Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent is perhaps another, and exciting, exhibition.  The centre of the space was however, occupied with a dialogue between two great Antique sculptures the 'Belvedere Torso' (on loan from the Vatican) and one of the reclining Gods from one of the two pediments of the Parthenon. Both statues have suffered from the effects of time and that is what I took with me.

We went to 'Polpo at Bird and Ape' for an early dinner.  As a loyal reader of this blog may now realise Polpo is a bit of a favourite of mine.  It was the bf's first visit.  We started with Chopped Chicken Liver crostini, and then shared a Fritto Misto, Pork and fennel polpetti, and really delicious salad of Zucchini, Parmesan and Basil.  We going to have a go tonight in re-creating the latter.

Our evening was spent at Wilton's Music Hall in the East End.  I have wanted to visit the place for some time, and it really, really did not disappoint.  A small Victorian building tucked away in a side street, it has been restored in a particularly atmospheric manner. The hall itself is magnificent, rather  as you might imagine Vanbrugh or Hawksmoor having a go at designing and not over restored.  In fact it seems, thankfully, they have done mere that which is necessary to protect the structure - the walls, for example, have been stripped to the original surface but not repainted.  The lighting is perfect: trails of tiny lights hanging from the central ceiling rose like a bell tent.  Quite breathtaking.  The reason for our visit was an evening of early silent comedies bought to us by the Lucky Dog Picture House, the people 'dedicated to recreating the original cinema experience'.  It was a fantastic evening. A brilliant job they did of it: five musicians playing witty, clever original music. There were six films in all; 'Undressing Extraordinary' (1901), 'Mary Jane's Mishap' (1903), 'The (?) Motorist' 1904, 'A Dog's Life' (1918) and after the interval: 'The Lucky Dog' (1921), and 'Liberty' (1921).  The last was the funniest: Laurel and Hardy in a broad, physical farce that culminated in a literally breath taking scene on the top of a skyscraper.  I have to confess that thanks to watching Laurel and Hardy films as a child on television I have not had a great liking for this sort of stuff, but it is a completely different experience seeing these films with live music and an audience.  As I have said on this blog before, do not hesitate, if you have the chance, to watch these films in the manner in which they meant to see.  It is wonderful thing to do.

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