Tuesday 25 September 2007
There was a Time....
.....when going to the V&A for a late-night opening was like attending a rather grand and decadent party. Drinks were served in the main hall by uniformed staff, with music - generally jazz - provided by The Teatime Trio; that exuberant waterfall of coloured glass that cascades down from the domed ceiling gave the impression of balloons and streamers, and all-in-all the combination of party chatter, majestic surroundings and High Art was pretty heady. Alas, no longer. The dread hand of economics - or, more probably, the even dreader hand of Health & Safety - has put paid to all that, and the party atmosphere has given way to bag-searching security guards and and queues for the ticket desk. You can still get a drink, but to do so you have to brave the cheerless depths of the basement cafeteria - which isn't much of an argument to any but the most confirmed alcoholic......
We were there on Friday for the exhibition of Lee Miller's photography, which went some way, at least, to returning some of the sense of decadence that the authorities have done their best to purge. Rattling around Paris and New York in the late Twenties and Thirties, Miller moved with the international surrealist crowd of the time (on cup-of-sugar borrowing terms with Dali and Picasso, for instance, and was more than best buddies with Man Ray for quite some time). The early photography includes some real gems, and Miller herself was show-stoppingly stunning. Strangely, though, the most surreal element of the exhibition wasn't anything that the surrealistes d'orées had come up with, but was instead the bizarre effect achieved by the editorial team at Vogue when in 1945 they placed Miller's pictures of the horrors of the concentration camps between pages discussing this season's fashions and what colour you should be painting your toe-nails for summer! What were they thinking of.....?
Despite their failings in the party department, the V&A has definitely come on in leaps and bounds since the era when they were renowned for their level of incompetence - a period when Private Eye reviewed in its pages a spoof publication by the then curator, Roy Strong, entitled Things which have recently fallen over and got broken at the V&A. At the time, it caused a wry and knowing smile in quite a few quarters. Roy Strong, I remember from I dinner I once cooked in Dr Johnson's House in Gough Square, which was the launch of some new publishing venture and was attended by the glitterati of the literary world - we set up our kitchen in Dr Johnson's Library, and at one point Beryl Bainbridge wandered in and expressed heartfelt disgust that we were allowed to roast half sheep on the premises, whereas if she wanted a cigarette (which, clearly, she did) she had to go and stand in the square outside!
Mind you, she would have felt divinely vindicated had she known that we fused the power supply ten minutes later, and mid-dinner had to move all of our ovens right down to the basement, where there was a different power circuit. Dinner was served in the attic, four floors (73 steps!) up from the basement kitchen. By the following morning, my aching muscles were telling me I'd just completed a high pressure pentathlon. I only hope Beryl Bainbridge enjoyed her cigarette!
Bistecchie di Maiale; Aubergines with Anchovy & Garlic.
Budino of fragole grapes, with Cream.