True to our agreement that when we go away we have at least one day of culture when holidaying or having a weekend away, on a visit to Liverpool I accompanied Mrs T to the Tate Museum. It was a disaster waiting to happen.
When we arrived in the foyer, my heart was gladdened for I was greeted by Rodin’s “The Kiss”, a sensual sculpture of a 13th-century noblewoman locked in a tender embrace with her lover. It is a moment captured in time, their lips barely touching before they were bumped off by the woman’s jealous husband who was a bit miffed that his younger brother was having it off with his Missus. It is a piece of art that even a supposed Philistine like me could admire and appreciate and is not in any way to be confused with Picasso’s painting of “The Kiss” which reminds me of an Aussie bloke’s reply when asked to describe his ideal woman. “Three feet tall and no teeth,” he said. “And a flat-topped head so I have somewhere to rest my grog while she does the business”.
We took the stairs to the first floor. Halfway up there was a ballerina in a glass case by some bloke named Degas – not my cup of tea, but I could see why it might appeal to some people – and in the first gallery paintings by famous artists hanging on the walls. It was proper art, portraits of famous people fashioned to be eerily lifelike and landscapes that conjured up memories of balmy summer’s days. Alright, one or two of them were total crap but you can’t have everything. But as we continued onwards and upwards, a pattern started to emerge; with every floor, the higher you go, the exhibits get more and more outlandish… and then the penny dropped. The whole thing was a con, they were sucking you in, had you firmly by the balls and weren’t about to let go. Whether you liked it or not, you were stuck in there for the duration. You couldn’t escape, couldn’t turn back and find sanctuary, (or should that be sanity?) it’s not allowed. You have to keep pushing on suffering exhibits that are increasingly disturbing along the way.
By the time we reached the upper floor, my relief at being greeted by “The Kiss” was nothing more than a distant memory. To be honest, when we first stepped through the door I thought I was in the canteen. In an alcove on the left was a 1950’s table set for dinner. Alright, as a piece of social history it might have its place, but by the time we arrived to stand in front of it being social anything was the last thing on my mind, all I wanted to do was smash it into a thousand pieces and when asked why I did it say I was enhancing its authenticity by illustrating the frustration and anger felt by the Teddy Boys of the time. Works for me. But before I could say as much to Mrs T, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a small crowd of people standing on the other side of the room and wandered over to see what all the fuss was about and… and they were just standing there staring in awe at a grimy, pee stained, moth-eaten mattress propped up against the wall. And nobody said a word. Like it was the Holy Grail or something. Was it b******s, it was a skanky 1970’s, bug infested mattress and my first thought was that the museum had been targeted by fly-tippers and somebody had dumped it there. But no, not even close, one of the most respected museums in the world had decided it was perfectly acceptable to display a mattress that had been rescued from the skip where it had been dumped by somebody who got a rash whenever they slept on it and call it art. It defied comprehension… and, believe it or not, it was about to get worse.
Not far away there was a second group of people, much larger than the first and they were standing in silence too, mesmerised by the sight of a fluorescent tube, one end of which was suspended on a coat hanger hanging from a clothes rack and the other end rammed through yet another bloody mattress. I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t even connected to a bloody power supply.
“What the f***!” I gasped much louder than I intended.
The crowd rounded on me as one, glaring at me like I was the illegitimate son of Beelzebub. “It represents the violation of women” one of them, a scruffy hippy, spat at me contemptuously. Alright, so I’m an idiot, but how the hell he had managed to determine that from the mangled crap strewn across the floor, I don’t know and if something is so obscure you have to explain it, what’s the point? Wouldn’t it be better to create something instantly recognisable in the first place? Like… I don’t know, something. Anything. Or would that be too much trouble?
“The only thing it represents to me is where I would like to stick the fluoro should the artist ever bend down in front of me” I assured him.
On that and with what was by now a lynch mob fixing me with evil looks, I found myself being dragged away for my own safety. Down the stairs and through the Andy Warhol exhibition, the pictures of Marilyn Munroe mounted on the wall nothing more than a blur, my feet barely touching the floor until we arrived back in the foyer. And as we stood there and I slipped on my jacket before going outside, a couple who had been in the crowd walked past and I heard the woman ask her husband quietly “what was it really about?” “How the hell should I know?” replied her partner as mystified as me. “I thought you knew. I was going to ask you when we got outside”.
I looked up at the name of the museum over the door. “I think they’ve got that wrong”, I said with a smug smile. “There’s no “e” on the end of tat”. Mrs T rolled her eyes, sighed in frustration… and off we toddled for a ride on the Yellow Duckmarine. Much more fun.