I am sure no reminder is needed, but I'll still gladly do it: The best place in town come Friday night is the National Portrait Gallery.
NPG has always been my favourite gallery in town. I think of the Portrait Gallery as of the "dolly" in the company of grander ladies. Sat next to Auntie National Gallery; not far from La Grande Dame Tate Britain; cross the river from La Garce Tate Modern and more central than Nanny V&A NPG is a dolly. Une poupée quoi.
A dolly that come Friday evening turns from un petit bijou to a magically expandable jewelry box. And now more than ever so. For there are there many gems at once: the permanent exposition, the Portrait Award and Cindy Shrman, the live DJs, the drawing in the gallery, the drinks in the grand foyer, the books in the bookshop, the arty presents in the gallery shop and the unique view towards Nelson's Column and the Big Ben from the under the roof restaurant.
On each of those books could be written but will try to keep it short:
The permanent exhibition is as permanent as a forest. The trees stand still but the view is permanently changing. Now the 1st floors "Southern Wing" (as I imagine it is called) features a new display of portraits of film directors, rock'n'roll stars and other entertainment and politics' celebrities.
The Portrait Award finalists this year looks to me better and sharper than some previous years. I am not sure if this is due to the smaller selection presented in a space differently arranged; or the selected works are simply and really better. This year, three of my favourite portraits hang on the same wall. Of them I will mention only a portrait I nicknamed 'Repin's portrait of Repin'. Not only the painting looks like Repin's but also the person depicted looks like him. Strangely Frances Bell has named this excellent portrait of her friend Edd, not 'Repin' but 'Rumination'. (Here I would like to open a bracket and recomend a fine Finish film titled Tuntematon mestari, English title One Last Deal, 2018. It is about an elderly art dealer who dreams for one last big deal before selling his gallery and retiring. He falls upon an unsigned portrait which he believe if of ...that's it! Repin. (Strangely the portrait used in the film looks disturbingly similar to the now infamous Salvator Mundi)
Cindy Sherman about whom ignorasimus me have never previously heard, challenged me at first. With the entry in the first exhibition whole I felt strong rejection bubbling in my chest : "How could she be so self-obsessed as to represent only herself?" Then reluctance to go further in the exhibition rooms: "What now, am I expected to be looking to her face alone through a whole exhibition?". This challenge lasted just as long as necessary for me to see myself as conservative and judgemental. Four minutes later I was already realising that: 1. Cindy Sherman plays. 2. She plays with the only thing she really has - herself. 3. She've shortened the habitual journey through which the viewer goes in search of the artist's face and personality, both embedded in the fabric of the work. 4. Her real name is Cindy Empathy Sherman as through some unbelievable degree of mimicry she is able to incarnate an uncountable number of women characters. She depicts and presents thousands of faces using and manipulating nobody but her own self. Which possibly makes of her the most ethical of all artists? 5. She is a real alchemist and psychonaut.
The live DJs are "bien a leur place" at the NPG. Ideally we would have some string quartet here and a DJ there but that might be reserved for when we go to heaven. I also congratulate the NPG for the good choice of DJs and also for their intentional strive to achieve diversity. An intentional, proactive strive to reach a diverse audience is what every gallery needs. Chapeau 💕 Art Diversity Engaged Position should be every gallery's moto.
People drowning in the gallery? There is hardly something more therapeutically soothing than watching people drawing in the gallery. Luckily, there are still plenty of them around all gallery floors. May be in slightly lower numbers than previously when the gallery was providing all drawing materials.
The books in the bookshop ? There is a ton of books waiting to be read under a DJ accompaniment - quel bonheur! That must be circle two of paradise.
The shop? Ah the shop the shop... In the shop they now have this cet of ribbon&pearls necklace and bracelet in graffiti-grey and black ... at the cite of which I have to exercise will power not to neigh like a horese and clap my hands.
The view from the under the roof restaurant is like in a Disney movie. I sit there with a strawberry bellini in my left hand and a rabbit shang in my right hand and expect to see if not a dragon flying around the Big Ben at least Merry Poppins umbrelluting down from the grey rainy sky, descending to keep Nelson company.
...ah, and talking about food and grey sky... New to this particular spot in town, upon my arrival at Trafalgar Square last Friday, 19 July, I spot a Hare Krishna cart marked with "Love your vegan food" banner parked just at the corner where NG meets NPG. Thus, just before my entry in the gallery I am handed a big, biodegradable! plate of warm curcuma lentils. So I sit with a plate shining like the sun in bright yellow under a grey drizzling sky. I catch myself thinking:
In nowadays British Empire, just like in the Ancient Roman before, two things only the people anxiously desire — bread and circuses. Art and food.
A little bit later the precious energy of art and food kicks in taking me higher and higher, away from the week's manic stress and depression. Enter weekend.
For Portrait Award until 20 October
For the Cindy Sherman until 15 September