What I love the most about art is how subjective it is. What one person may think is complete and utter crap, another may see as having some deeper meaning or beauty.
I’ve been to enough art galleries and museums around the world to know where my preference lies. Pretty much all photography, followed by the works of surrealist artists such as Frida Kahlo and René Magritte. Modern art however, I’m not so sure about. Some is bloody brilliant, like pretty much everything in the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania. Others, I’m not so keen on.
Yet, I still like to go look at art, because art is important. It is the colour of life, after all.
Which leads me to this past Saturday, where I spent the better part of the morning lining up for hours to spend twenty seconds in a small, mirrored room full of brightly lit pumpkins.
I’d seen Yayoi Kusama’s most recent work on Instagram and had been intrigued by it. They looked pretty and I like things that light up.
Turns out, she’d been having an exhibition in London, with free admission. The show had started late May and was due to end on the 30th of July.
I’d resolved earlier this year to make the most of living in the UK’s capital, so long as I called it home. And let’s be honest – London is probably the culture capital of the world. There’s always some new show, play, musical or exhibition opening up somewhere. You could never be bored in the city, although you could go broke quite easily.
So, at 2am on Saturday morning, I decided I’d wake up at 7am and mission it from my home south of the river to the gallery, for the last day of the exhibition. As it turned out, a large percentage of the city had had a similar idea.
At that time of night/morning, my little creative excursion sounded easier than it would turn out to be. Not the waking up part, as I knew that was going to be difficult, regardless. Yet I figured we’d make our way to the city north, squeeze in some Japanese art before lunchtime, before making our leisurely way back down south.
Ha. How wrong I was.
There was another event taking place in the city – the Prudential RideLondon Freecycle. Many streets across the city would be closed to cater for these cycling enthusiasts. In true, chaotic London style this was the same weekend that there were planned works on the Northern line, which intersected the particular area that had been shut down. Makes sense, right? As a result, navigating through the city was an unholy nightmare.
So, despite having set off quite early, it took us quite some time to get to where we needed to be. We arrived at the Victoria Miro gallery at twenty to ten, to one of the most upsetting queues I’ve ever seen.
Here is roughly where we were when we first joined the queue. That light grey banner you can see in far distance is the gallery door.
When the doors first opened at ten, there was a surge of movement as everyone shuffled about fifteen paces forward. That was the furthest we’d get in one go. After that, we were lucky to move five paces forward every twenty minutes or so. The capacity of the gallery was no match for the size of the line.
The minutes and then the hours ticked on. We amused ourselves by talking about everything and anything, bitching loudly about people who queue jumped and in my case, daydreaming about the Maccas ice cream I planned to nab after the show. My boyfriend was quick to point out just how ridiculous I was being in my desires.
“You’ve spent three hours lining up for an art exhibition and you’re already saying the highlight of your day is going to be the ice cream that you plan to eat after you leave.”
Yet as we’d both now agreed on, there was no way the exhibit was going to be worth the wait. Nothing is. People were leaving the gallery with disappointment etched upon their faces, but this wasn’t quelling our spirits. We already knew that we’d be supremely underwhelmed.
We finally reached the head of the queue and were taken through the gallery, out into the garden. There were two works to on display here – Narcissus Garden, 1966 (pictured above) and Where the Lights in My Heart Go, 2016.
WTLIMHG was a large, stainless steel box, with tiny holes poked in it. Four of us entered the box and had the door closed behind us. Outside, the attendant set his stopwatch to 45 seconds, the maximum allocated time for viewing. We stood inside, not entirely sure of what to do. I looked to the two girls who’d entered with us who were so clearly arts students (they have a certain look about them, on that anyone would agree), but they seemed as stumped as we were, which made me feel a little better.
From there, we joined the fifteen minute queue for the main attraction – All the Eternal Love I Have for Pumpkins, 2016. The pumpkins were encased in a small, mirrored room (if you haven’t guessed by now, mirrors are sort of Kusama’s thing). We were to enter in pairs and given a quick twenty seconds to take in the piece, before being shepherded out for the next two. This is just enough time to take a few hurried photos and laugh a little about the pointlessness of life with your boyfriend. No, the pumpkins are cool. It just would have been nice to have had a little more time to take them in.
We took a couple of goofy photos by the polished bronze Pumpkins that were situated next to the box and moved onto the final piece, Chandelier of Grief. A similar set up to the pumpkins, with a slightly shorter line.
By this point, we’d seen everything we’d wanted to see. I ran down to use the toilet before we left. There was a sign hung on the door of the ladies’ toilet that read: “Male Attendant Cleaning.” The girl in front of me turned around, rolled her eyes at me and said:
“You can’t make this sort of thing up, can you?” I nodded. I knew how she felt.
In the end, we didn’t really have a bad time. The wait was annoying and the length of time allowed in each piece was ridiculous. Apparently each patron was allowed 45 seconds when the show first opened, before word spread. Yet, I understand that their main prerogative was to allow as many people into the exhibition as possible, so you can’t really fault the gallery for that.
At the end of the day, the hours spent in line would have just been spent sitting around the house. And while I wouldn’t say that my life was enriched in any way from having seen Kusama’s works, I walked away with another ridiculous story about life in London, that I’m sure I’ll cherish in time to come.
Would you wait three hours in line to see an art show? Have you seen Yayoi Kusama’s works before? Do you too suffer greatly from FOMO? If so, I obviously empathise.