By Bob Ballard SGFA
Stumbling from the overcrowded Leonardo da Vinci exhibition into Trafalgar Square the other day, I reflected that we the viewers had been like pigeons pecking around a pavement pizza. There were just too many of us. Could this be solved by the National Gallery restoring its 19th century policy of admitting only those who could prove 100% literacy, I wondered. No, it would be hard on the pigeons, who, it has been scientifically proved, can tell a Monet from a Picasso and who commute daily from a grade 2 listed aircraft hangar at Hendon to exercise their cultural rights in the heart of London. Apropos Monet, I recall a huge exhibition of his works years ago at the Tate where it was impossible to see a thing because of the crowds. Meanwhile, at the admirable National Gallery of Wales, as a thoughtful attendant there explained to me, I could have at least four of the great Impressionist’s works to myself.
Perhaps it is time for the blockbusters and the galleries that house them to go. There are strong historical precedents: “Burn ‘em all down!” screamed the Futurists. Even the sacred Louvre wasn’t above censure; Vuillard reports that when Degas père took his sons there the future artist dutifully looked at the pictures while his brother occupied himself far more profitably sliding about on the wax floor. Bonnard in turn stated that the best pictures were the views from the window while Braque would sit outside and only enter if his wife, sent on purpose to investigate beforehand, could convince him that there was anything half decent within.
With this in mind I suggest all art galleries henceforth become power stations in order to help the country’s economy though an exception could be Tate Britain which should revert to the status of the penitentiary that once stood upon its site. As before, fettered convicts could then shuffle down to Millbank and board a Hirst-spotted boat to Australia, or van Damian’s Land as it would be called. Regarding the National Gallery, it could become the National Cruet Stand again as cruel critics referring to its architecture called it at the time of its construction (look at its condiment-shaped dome if you don’t know why). Better still, it could assume the identity of the edifice that originally stood upon this spot – in the Middle Ages Edward 1st had the mews for his falcons there. Now that would solve the pigeon problem.
Bob Ballard, Nov. 2011.