Monday, December 29, 2008

Southbank

The flu has claimed two weeks of my life. I think I've tended to use the word 'flu' very loosely. I now understand it as an illness in its own right that warrants the grandiloquent four syllabled in-flu-en-za. I have new respect and understanding and loathing for this disease, which killed more people in 1918 than the First World War.

Today was my first excursion into the World, and to cheer myself up I decided to go to the unfailingly uplifting Southbank. I like Southbank a lot. There's something very petulant about the architecture of that stretch of public buildings on the, well, south bank of the river, just north of Waterloo station. I can just picture a bunch of gung-ho postwar labour councillors saying let's be really gutsy and annoying and pour vast amounts of concrete on the riverbank and build really hulking monstrosities in which Everything can be Art. The Hayward Gallery even has a restaurant called Concrete, which features a pink neon light-lined concrete mixer at its entrance. And the semi-subterranean skateboarding arena permanently covered in graffiti seems so purpose-built, so planned, as to suggest a meeting somewhere in pre-Thatcherite Britain featuring earnest councillors allocating money for 'youth culture'.

Today, I went to see the Andy Warhol exhibition Other Voices, Other Rooms, named after a novel written by Truman Capote, who was one of his favourite authors. Predictably, it was weird and brilliant and very colourful. The truth is that I went because I wanted to BUY prints for two empty frames in my bathroom. I feel rather less guilty about the frankly consumerist impulse because I think Warhol would have rather liked this. I wouldn't think this about someone like, say, Rothko, who was so particular about how he was displayed that he is probably turning in his grave on account of the ways in which his images have been manipulated and replicated on all sorts of surfaces and objects. But Warhol is a brand that wants to be everywhere, on everything. I was looking for the prints of Marilyn Monroe and Mao and Jackie Kennedy and flowers, but instead I settled for postcards of Warhol himself. This too he would have liked, because he was obsessed with himself and his image. The publicity material said that Warhol wanted to demystify art so that it looked like anyone could have done it. I think that's a very curious motivation. I can see that there is something wonderful in creating art out of the everyday, the quotidian, the banal. But Warhol was so obsessed with publicity and fame that the last thing he would have wanted was for everyone to be able to do what he did. Actually, his films are so avant garde, so underground, so weird, that there is little danger of this ever happening.

The great thing about Southbank is that you're always spoiled for choice. After Warhol, I just happened to walk by the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the right time to catch the fabulous Puppini Sisters live. If you ever go to the QEH and find that tickets have sold out, stand in the ticket returns queue. You have a very good chance of getting something because 'sold out' almost never means that. The show had the lamest cover act ever. A man stood on the stage playing CDs for an eternity. He drank water from a plastic bottle, sang along occasionally and generally did a terrible job of assuring people that everything was ok. However, the wait was well worth it. The Puppini Sisters do close three-part harmony and excel at making everything, including Crazy in Love, sound like interwar Berlin cabaret. Here's the remix. They have a great band (bass guitar, drummer, double bass) and very good stage chemistry, humour, cheek! The encore was Walk Like an Egyptian.

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