January 21st, 2005

Day Two

We were stopped on the embankment by a young chap with a beard who promised us free tee shirts if we visited the Saatchi gallery. Saatchi is the advertising man who sold Mrs Thatcher to the British nation, then cornered the market in Brit Art. OK, not my favourite person, but I probably wouldn’t have liked Lorenzo De Medici either, or Pope Paul II or any of history’s other great art patrons if I’d been living in their time and with the consequences of their politics.

So we took the offer. The Saatchi Galley occupies floorspace in County Hall, the building that used to house London County Council, until Mrs Thatcher closed them down because they were too left-wing for her. Kinda fitting that her man Saatchi should be in residence now. To the victor the spoils.

So we saw the art and they gave us the tee shirts. The tee shirts have the motif of a heart pierced by a dagger and the Saatchi name underneath. I guess we’ll be advertising him on a Spanish beach this summer.

And the art? I liked the work by Marlene Dumas best. She has a picture of a very disturbing baby with a direct, adult gaze. We looked to see if it was a portrait of young Adolf. It wasn’t but it might have been.

We had lunch in the Royal Festival Hall, then went a few doors down to Dali Universe. It’s a very different kind of gallery. Saatchi’s place is like a temple- white walls, an atmosphere of awed hush- whereas this is kitsch and tatty and cheerful. Come and see the giraffes on fire! Come and see the naked ladies! Dali is fun. He digs into his toybox and brings out a soft watch, then he brings out a human torso with drawers in it, then he brings out a lobster, then he brings out a soft watch and then….Yeah, it’s fun being with Dali, but don’t expect much too variety. He recycles the same few images/obsessions again and again in painting, jewellery, sculpture.

They had some Picassos in the cellar. Picasso is another kind of artist altogether. Dali had ideas and got other people to execute them, but Picasso liked to get his hands dirty. The best things here were a couple of vitrines full of the lovely chunky pots he made in the 40s and 50s.

If I had a few hundred thousand pounds to spare I would buy myself a Picasso pot.

The rest of the afternoon we spent walking in the streets surrounding the Royal Courts of Justice. Lincoln Inn Fields is very pretty and shut-away, like a misplaced Oxford College. We went into the Church of St Mary Le Strand and the female verger offered us a cup of tea. There was a lovely deep smell of incense and we lit a candle in front of the virgin and child. All gods are one god and all goddesses are one goddess.

Paint is just coloured mud and glass is just sand that’s been melted and stone is just stone- but we dig these things up from under out feet, mess with them some and use them to create things that will outlast us and which make us think of God. In St Mary Le Strand they have a coffered ceiling with lovely plaster rosettes (plaster is what? Chalk that’s been processed or something like that) I’ll swear every one of them was subtly different.

And that’s about it. We had supper in an Indian restaurant and came back to the hotel in a jam-packed tube train.