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A Markleyian Tour of London: Part II

January 29, 2013|Stephen Markley

To catch up on stuff I’ve been doing in London, read Part I. Today’s tour continues with further adventures, mostly in how strange art museums are.

Tate Modern: I was attempting to do only museums I haven’t seen before, but after checking out St. Paul’s Cathedral where I lit a candle and pretended to be a devout Catholic for fifty seconds in order to feel deep shame and terror of my own sexual desires, I realized I had only to cross the Millennium Bridge to make it to the Tate Modern. The Millennium Bridge is famous for its original opening when those who walked across it noticed it swaying sickeningly and terrifyingly in the breeze. They had to shut it down and figure out how to not make people cry and barf when they walked across it.

The Tate Modern is like the Tate, only instead of old art it has new art, which we art aficionados call “modern art.” This also means that with any given display there is a 50% chance the art will be cool and interesting and a 50% chance it will be a fork glued to a block of wood and affixed to the wall; a 50% chance you’ll view a bizarre ghostly painting that appears to be two ethereal figures embracing while obscured by a dark fog and a 50% chance some asshole unwound a spool of toilet paper on the floor.

I admit, I did wander into one room where there was a piece that just left me moved and awestruck. It was a massive pile of ductwork and electrical components heaped on top of each other nearly to the ceiling, which seemed to symbolize an industrial age run amok, growing ever higher and more unstable even as the accumulation of the detritus of modern life only continued to swell. There was doom and glory and beauty in this piece.

Then a Tate Modern attendant came up to me and said, “Hey, you can’t be in here.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“They’re doing construction,” she said, as if I were quite stupid, and nodded her head to all the garbage lying piled on the floor.

New Zealand engagement party: I took a time out from my museum-going to attend an engagement party for a New Zealand couple—a friend of a friend type situation. Known colloquially as “Kiwis”, the New Zealanders speak English but have a great number of words I had never heard before that I would like to steal. Here are some:

“Bung”—meaning faulty, not good, as in “I have a bung knee” or “the Millennium Bridge was total bung when it first opened.”

“Yeeeeaaah?”—meaning, yes or yeah, only pronounced with a cute, little long “e” that leads into an abrupt “eh.” Especially adorable when uttered by women.

“Mutten”—meaning bung, but different. I also am not sure I have this pronunciation correct because I was mixing Corona and red wine.

Hitachi Gallery: This was a great three-story art gallery featuring a bunch of Russian artists attempting to out-freak-me-out with their weird, unsettling displays. There were two leading candidates, the first of which created this life-size prison with a bunch of mannequins with demented heads. One had an arm cut off, one was hanging from the ceiling by his belt, one had both arms cut off and the arm was stapled to a wall, one was reaching ghost-like through a wall to another cell.

(This goes back to my feelings about modern art, because this was a really creepy, effective, bizarre, troubling, disturbing, powerful display, and I could have spent an hour studying all of the strange details that seemed to have so much to say about the nature of political imprisonment. Then one floor up, an “artist” had painted some ropes black and hung them up on some wood.)

However, there was also a display by a photographer who had apparently chosen to go to the scariest, dirtiest, most disturbing Ukrainian backwater town to photograph that town's most frightening people. The least disturbing pictures were of small children smoking cigarettes and groping. The most disturbing were just shots of genitals with really gruesome STDs on full display. Somewhere in between were the elderly, naked prostitutes with breasts like sandbags that a flooded river has washed into the breach.

After that I went and got a duck sandwich from Pret A Manger. It was pretty good.

Victoria and Albert Museum: It was a bad idea to save the vast, expansive Victoria and Albert for last. This museum is just enormous, a top to bottom cavern with paintings, artifacts, sculptures, statues, tombs, costumes—you name it. I meandered around for about two hours, sat and stared at some Raphael paintings, took in nothing of use, learned nothing of import, and finally decided to go see if “Friends” was on the telly.

"Friends": The British version of Comedy Central plays episodes of “Friends” basically 24 hours a day. I watched the entire arch of the season when Ross dates Bruce Willis’s daughter and Rachel dates Bruce Willis, right up until the point of Chandler’s engagement to Monica. Could I BE watching any more “Friends”?

"Friends" is just terrific. I’m so glad I took this trip to London.

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