Tuesday, 25 January 2011
A Lesson in Art Criticism, among Other Things
Today I journeyed to Bedford in the sure and certain - and, as it turned out, entirely unfounded - conviction that the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (home of a magnificent Edward Bawden collection and the sole reason anyone would journey to Bedford) had reopened after its refurbishment. Nothing could be further from the truth; the Cecil Higgins is not going to reopen until late in 2012. However, the part of the building that was open was staging a very good exhibition of Toulouse Lautrec prints, so I enjoyed that before making my way back to London and the certainties of Tate Britain (We Never Close!). My visit was much enlivened by a couple of young art lovers - girls aged, at a guess, about 3 and 5. They first crossed my path when I was standing in a darkened anteroom sampling a meretriciously effective work by Mark Wallinger, Threshold to the Kingdom, which consists of a slo-mo video of people coming through the International Arrivals doors of an airport, to the accompaniment of Allegri's Miserere. The girls were expressing their appreciation by chasing each other and rolling around on the mosaic floor, which certainly lifted the mood. Their whoops and giggles followed me, now near now far, through several more galleries, bringing more smiles to my face than is normally the case on a tour of the Tate - but they really came into their own when they spotted, at the far end of one gallery, a Henry Moore Woman (a big bronze of 1957/8), which had them in fits. As they ran towards it, they were increasingly gripped by helpless laughter and ended up falling about at the foot of the mighty bronze. Their refreshing approach to art criticism was a joy to see, and a lovely contrast to the often entirely unwarranted solemnity of the gallery atmosphere. There have been plenty of occasions when only adult decorum has prevented me from falling about laughing at items in galleries passed off in all seriousness as Art. There should be far more laughter in such places - and if it's children's laughter, so much the better.