Tea & Crumpets: The Friends, Journalists, and Artists I Met on my London Art Adventure
I journeyed to London to go on a world-class art adventure during which I met new and old friends, journalists, and artists to share experiences with. The following is a dissected look at some of the outings and synchronicities I experienced during my week long stay of jam-packed 10am-midnight walks with individuals. There will be more posts to follow, including a recap of the London Street Art scene and the differences between galleries in the UK and Los Angeles. But this post, for now, is my expression of gratitude to the individuals that influenced me on my trip.
Estelle Lovatt is an art critic based out of London. And since she studied as an artist rather than as a critic, she is really able to really see and understand what every creator is doing with their works from the point of view of an insider. Because of this, Estelle has garnered a really cool presence in the UK art scene as a radio host, lecturer, journalist, and guest star on many BBC TV episodes relating to art. We initially connected via Twitter and ended up getting tea at Marks & Spencer, a department store, grocery, and cafe (where Margret Thatcher supposedly buys her knickers) to have a top-secret art conversation. To Londoners, it’s not really the most glamorous of places, but I insisted on going there because I thought it would be as local and unpretentious as it gets.
Beautiful Crime is a UK art blog and curatorial effort spearheaded by a man named Westie. I had been meaning to meet him for quite some time because we have a mutual friend who is always raving about all the cool shows he’s putting together, so we were finally able to catch up at the Tate Modern – London’s greatest contemporary art museum and for that matter possibly one of the greatest in the world. And since I like introducing people to each other, I also invited the artist Debra Scacco who was living in the city at the time. It was a rainy day when we met, so we convened at the ticket counter soaking, where a huge performance piece was in full-effect. It’s a work orchestrated by the artist Tino Sehgal that involves close to 100 actors. At first they seem like regular museum attendees, but then all of a sudden they all start walking backwards in unison and begin to dance to a crowd of spectators. We walked around the William Klein & Daido Moriyama exhibit and in the middle of one of the rooms I asked Westie if he had any photos of the successful showing of Chris Moon’s paintings that he had just curated. He was able to do one better and pulled out an original painting that he was about to ship to a collector out of his super reinforced military bag. Debra, Westie, and I got to check out the piece in the middle of the museum without anyone saying anything, making for quite the surreal moment. After touring around for a while, Westie had to run, but Debra and I stayed and got tea and pumpkin soup in the member’s cafe, which surprisingly had delicious food compared to that of their American counterparts.
View from outside FormContent’s [a curatorial initiative] office above The David Roberts Art Foundation where I met Anca Rujoiu and the rest of their team[/caption]The curator Anca Rujoui and I were introduced via Isabelle Le Normand, director of the French gallery Mains D’Oeuvres in an email. Isabelle thought it would be interesting for me to meet with Anca in London, after the two of them had become friends at a curatorial seminar in Korea. I thought that was an intriguing story to begin with and had to find out more, so after getting lost for about an hour because I had taken directions from someone on the street who was lost as well, Anca and I found each other at a tube station (what people in London call their subway system) just a few paces away from her office. She’s originally from Romania and was a writer on their adaptation of a popular American sitcom before moving to London to dive head first into art, where she has now cemented her place in the academic scene as a curator for the non-profit and nomadic organization FormContent. Form Content had just moved into their space above The David Roberts Art Foundation, so there wasn’t any art there yet. But I was able to meet with one the organization’s founders Pieternel Vermoortel.
Right before I left for London, I performed a one-minute lecture as part of Micol Hebron’s 1 Image in 1 Minute event at ForYourArt. Since the experience was so cool and Micol was such a great host, I asked her if she knew any artists in London I should connect with. She immediately sent me friend suggestions on Facebook to link up with Sarah Waldorf and SE Barnett. Unfortunately, SE and I weren’t able to connect during my trip this time and I was really bummed to have missed her performance on the day I was flying home, but Sarah and I were able to get together for a visit to the Lazarides Gallery exhibition entitled “Bedlam,” which took place at night and underground [literally underneath the streets of London].
Since, it was only my second day in the city and I was still unfamiliar with the public transit system, Sarah offered to meet me at my hotel and teach me the ropes of how to get around. Through her lessons I was able to get to what seemed like hundreds of exhibits around London, so I owe her a huge thank you. Anyways, we arrived at the nearest stop to “Bedlam” and had to walk past it about 3 times before we found the unmarked door leading to the entrance. Once we found it however, we were comforted knowing that everything was really legit and there was a fancy desk sans any signs of Jack The Ripper. Once we showed them our RSVP, the gallery girls motioned us towards a curtain, which we pushed past towards to see the art. Inside was everything from a giant inflatable eye-ball to installations featuring electric chairs and huge projections you had to lay on the ground to see on the ceiling. At the exit, which was a store filled with limited edition prints, we decided to draw doodles on the guest book
The Turner Prize is an award of roughly $80,000 [£40,000] given to one artist every year in the UK that’s under the age of 50. It’s probably the most coveted and celebrated art award in the world and past winners have included stars like Damien Hirst and Anish Kapoor. Upon my arrival, the showing of the four finalists work at The Tate Britain was hands-down the most suggested exhibit for me to visit.
Spartacus Chetwynd, Luke Fowler, Paul Noble, and Elizabeth Price all had their own sections within a wing of the museum to showcase their videos, sculptures, and performances –all of which were completely unique in their own way. Elizabeth Price’s video was bright, Luke Fowler’s movie was serious, Paul Noble’s illustrations were huge and detailed, and Spartacus Chetwynd’s performance involved puppets and actors. So, biased by my love of puppets, I spent the most time in Spartacus’ section, during which the two actors in wild leaf-like dress and face paint pulled out audience members into the center of their stage and had them listen to secrets whispered to them by one of the characters. I was told in an awesome British accent that “70% of people have better sex than you” and then escorted out of the room where I met a girl who had been selected before me and told that “You’ll never grow a beard.”
Anyways I tweeted about my experience and was retweeted by Paul Kindersley, a performance artist who may or may not have been part of the act. However, it’s best to leave that up to the winds of mystery and fantasy of the imagination. A few days after this occurrence, by pure coincidence, I then found myself at a party in The Institute of Contemporary Art where I noticed a dude with tie-dye eyebrows and matching shirt shitting next to me. I had to introduce myself to them and had a moment of revelation when I realized it was actually Paul, the artist I had been communicating with via Twitter and had shared with me that the puppets who say negative things during The Turner Prize performance are nicknamed The Fuckers.
James Hyman is seriously the coolest person on Earth. He’s a close friend of my family and now the only close friend of my family with a Guinness World Record for having the largest collection of magazines in the world. I got to see glimpses of the collection when I visited his home, but most of the pieces are in a top-secret storage facility somewhere in London. It’s the type of situation where James not only has every issue of NME Magazine and Rolling Stone ever released, but also one-of-a-kind zines and cult publications that most people never knew existed. For example, I traded him some art books for a selection of rare pieces like a small magazine on how to hack phones released sometime in the 1990’s.
Whenever James and I get the chance to meet up and talk, what follows is the biggest culture nerd conversation known to man. We end up referencing everything from films like Robocop to book editors like Dian Hanson within a span of five minutes while also figuring out how to fit mention of Aphex Twin in there too. After all, before the magazine collection, I had always known James as a music junkie – having been and continuing to be a DJ, MTV Europe director/producer, radio host, and music supervisor for films like Revolver and RocknRolla by Guy Ritchie.
PS: If you have a magazine and want it to be in the collection, I suggest you email me danielrolnik[at]gmail[dot]com so I can connect you with James.
The Institute of Jamais Vu is an artist-run space based out of London. Their name implies a state of mind that’s opposite to that of deja vu and I had originally met most of its members at ART PLATFORM where they had an exhibit in the Co/Lab section of the event. So, as soon as I got the news that I was able to make the trip oversees, I began desperately to get together with them, which somehow ended up happening magically on my very last night. They told me about an event going on at the ICA [Institute of Contemporary Art], so I met them there after a early dinner at Tramshed – a restaurant with one of Damien Hirst’s cows in formaldehyde smack dab in the center of it. However, by the time I arrived the performances were just ending and the museum space had turned into a bar for the artfully minded.
We managed to score a table and seven chairs inside the packed sitting area, where I would go up to everyone around us and ask if they had been to The Institute of Jamais Vu before. If they replied no, I would introduce them to one of the members I was sitting with and have them exchange information. It was fun to get everyone leaving their social bubbles and interacting with people they had never met before, especially since I don’t think it’s common practice to do that in the UK.
Every member of the organization was awesome and I loved hearing about their adventures in America during their stay for the fair. So, even though there wasn’t an exhibit up at their gallery while I was in town, I still felt like they embraced me in as a sort of unofficial member of the club.
The American performance artist and founder of the blog Art Dogs!, Jon Bernad, had me meet with one of his friends while I was in London. Jon’s art has a lot to do with meeting strangers and then incorporating them into his life. So, in a way, me meeting Marie was actually a performance set up by Jon. However, it just felt as though a friend was introducing me to another one of their friends in a city abroad. It’s difficult to describe this exactly, unless you meet the artist yourself or become part of one of his pieces.
Marie and I met in Brixton, the once run-down part of London’s East End made famous by The Clash song “Guns Of Brixton, “but is now a thriving epicenter of hip youth since rent was affordable and artists moved in – in a similar vein to Silver Lake and downtown Los Angeles. We went to grab dinner in an area named The Brixton Village Market, which has become a hotspot of small cafes that only have about 6 tables in them, so it’s common practice there to share a seat with people you don’t know. We had crepes and talked about our experiences with Jon, one of which I wrote about on Beautiful/Decay.
Elliot Bentley is a badass journalist from London who also happens to be my cousin. The last time we saw each other was around four years ago, so our conversations geeking out on film and music this trip were replaced with deep opinions on the state of art and the ethics of blogging. He introduced my brother to the world of Secret Cinema, which I’ve had my fingers crossed will come to Los Angeles one day ever since I learned about it. It’s basically an event you sign up for after which you receive and email giving you cryptic clues as to what movie they’re screening. Except, it isn’t just a showing of a film, it’s an experience. For example. when Elliot and my brother saw Blade Runner they had to get on special busses escorted by replicants and then entered into a cinema that was set up to look like the baazar in the beginning of the film – complete with fake vendors and the whole nine yards.
We wanted to start out our first London meeting in years with an authentic English breakfast. So, we found a dive spot around the corner from my hotel and ate baked beans, crumpets, and tea while chatting it up with a couple cute girls on a traveling adventure from Australia – once of which I would later connect with again when she came to Los Angeles for a couple days. Afterwards, Elliot and I found ourselves stumbling into museums and comic stores all across London for hours, figuring out the differences in culture between our two continents, and me getting lessons on what some good British TV shows were since I posted on Facebook that all I had seen during my stay were the most boring stations ever.
Ok, so I don’t know who the person in the photo above is, but they were wearing the coolest outfit I’ve ever seen.
Randall XNovember 6, 2012
Wowa – cool shots, thankx. I was stuck at a Gatwick hotel last Sunday. Now I know what to do next time. ciao ciao
Daniel RolnikNovember 18, 2012