A visit to Burough Market and laughing at Modern Art – in a good way.


It was a rather hipster Saturday. I wore my dungarees, a very multicoloured woollen jacket and my embroidered boots with bright blue laces – a brave decision as I set out from the station of my sleepy market town in the leafy Chilterns but one that paid off in the hipster capital that is Burough Market in London as I was complimented on my look more than once. Is that good? In retrospect, I can’t be entirely sure….


St Paul’s Cathedral is just across the river

Anyway, if you have never visited Borough Market you should put it on your bucket list  – if you have such a thing. I’m a bit suspicious about bucket lists having a rather superstitious belief that if you were to complete your bucket list you would be announcing to the Universe that you were all done, ready to go! But if you don’t have the same superstitious take on the idea then add Borough Market to your list for the next time you make it to London.

The market is found very close to London Bridge, in fact it is housed directly under the railway lines and the deafening roar of overhead trains assaults your senses on a regular basis. But putting that to one side Burough Market is a cornucopia of artisan eating and drinking. The most amazing and varied breads, pastries, raw honey, artisan cheeses, fudge, chocolate, jam, chutney, biscuits, cakes and teas all to be bought and taken home for later consumption. There are fruit and vegetable stalls, meat and fish displays. The most amazing collection of fungi, samphire and multi coloured carrots Then there are a huge host of stalls selling street food. Plenty to satisfy the vegan or vegetarian as well as the committed carnivore. If pulling pork or roasting wild boar and shoving it into a roll is your idea of lunch on the move this is the place for you. If you’d like a veggie thali in a waxed box with samosas and bahjis or a falafel and pitta bread and you don’t mind finding a step to sit on to eat it then this is a dining experience not to be missed. Also you will need to embrace the British love of queueing. The most popular stalls have huge queues. To satisfy your thirst there are juices, some exotic combinations, some more mundane. Teas and coffees of every variety and even Golden Milk which is the hipster beverage of choice. Anything with coconut milk or oil, turmeric and cinnamon is very hipster. That could be the reason so many of those hipster beards appear to be a little on the ginger side – for the men that is! There’s alcohol too, obviously from hipster micro breweries.

This is all that’s left of the potato and caraway bread we bought

Burough Market is on the south side of the Thames and not far from the Millennium (or Wobbly) Bridge. We bought as much as we could carry from the market. Filled our bellies with delicious Indian veggie food eaten on a step in a side street and the made our way, with the swarm, towards Tate Modern passing the beautiful Shakespearian Globe Theatre on the way.

You may know that Tate Modern is housed in a former power station and maintains much of the feel of the original use of the space. You have the Turbine Hall, the Tanks and the Boiler room.

I had a profound realisation while wandering around one of the current exhibitions. It was the exhibition of Robert Rauschenberg’s works. My realisation was this – In order to be an artist you just have to say that’s what you are, and I suppose you have to get a certain number of people to agree. The reason this hit me so clearly was the fact that my teenage son felt the need, as we toured the various galleries showing Rauschenberg’s work, to whisper in my ear  ‘I could do that,’ as he indicated a particular piece that obviously he felt was lacking in skill or rigour. My reply to him was, ‘Yes, maybe, but you didn’t did you? And isn’t that the point? The artist has the idea and is confident enough in what he is trying to convey even though it may appear to a visitor as just a board with some paint on it, or a collage of magazine pictures. Or indeed a work of art constructed by erasing another artists work as Rauschenberg did with a drawing by Willem de Kooning in 1953.

I was delighted to find a couple of ladies giggling delightfully at a piece that included a sock and a parachute stuck to the canvas. They apologised when they caught my eye, obviously feeling that to laugh at the work was an indication of philistine tendencies. Quite the contrary, I  think people should feel free to laugh.

Bed 1955 – with toothpaste and nail varnish – apparently

There is far too much silence in galleries. People walk around at that slow funereal pace, slightly glassy-eyed,  trying not to appear in a hurry to move on to the next room. I was delighted to see people raising their eyebrows and smiling at a variety of exhibits. I loved the fact that the little labels that are placed next to the works telling you when they were created and the media used etc. included details that also made me laugh. Toothpaste and red nail varnish had been used in ‘Bed 1955’ as well as a pillow and a quilt. Fabric covered rattan poles also drew the now regularly expounded, ‘I could do that,’  from my son. But I don’t think he could or more importantly he would never have thought to have covered some rattan poles in coloured cloth and called it art – he may have called it a tent but that is another matter.

Yes, they are boxes…..

In the Turbine Hall there were a group of men dressed in floral maxi dresses wandering around chatting to or disturbing visitors, it was difficult to tell which. We viewed them from an upper floor and my son and I mused on exactly what they might be doing. ‘Performance art’ is what we came up with. By the time we made our way down to the ground floor they had disappeared but we enjoyed a display of moving screens that we were told were something to do with post linear, micro-organisms that were governed by a bioreactor. That might not be quite right – but it made us laugh for quite a while. Hope that was the intention – possibly not. Anyway you got to sit on a carpet to enjoy the experience and we were quite tired by then so we probably enjoyed this exhibit the most.

A few years ago the big exhibit in the Turbine Hall was the famous ‘crack’ in the floor. It probably had a different name and was undoubtedly some post linear expression – but it was just a big crack in the floor. Well, the thing that really made me laugh on this visit was the fact that the way this exhibit had been removed was just by cementing over the crack. You can still see where it had been but it was filled in. I keep wondering what’s to stop somebody stealing the idea and just putting a crack in their own floor without paying the artist a penny? I sense I may be missing something here.

There comes a point when you are in an art gallery where you become insecure about your ability to appreciate art. Is an empty room a work of art or just a room that is currently waiting for some art to be introduced? If there is a broom against the wall and a wheelbarrow can you blame visitors thinking they have stumbled upon an unfinished room currently inhabited by the builders rather than a work of art? If there is a big crack in the floor how do you know it’s art unless you read the sign. Art shouldn’t be that hard should it?

Grayson Perry, the famous, delightful and sometime cross dressing artist tells a story in his book ‘Playing to the Gallery’ about a group of schoolboys visiting a gallery in Birmingham, UK in 2000 who ate some sweets that they found left on a shelf which it turned out were in fact a work of art by the artist Graham Fagen. It would appear that if you are bold enough and have enough conviction you can point at anything and call it art. But does that also give the viewer the right to point at the same thing and deny it’s art? Hmm interesting – those sweet eating boys might argue so.

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