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Lucky dip December 1, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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The troublesome thing is choice.

I went to Poland. Quite by accident. I’d only meant to take the S-Bahn to Potsdamer Platz to go and see Klee and Koons – it’s K season at the Neue Nationalgalerie. Lowry and Lichtenstein up next. I’ll have learnt the whole alphabet by 2013 – but got confused and ended up in Warsaw.

Made up for my error by going to see Koons and Klee another time, though. May I recommend to anyone thirsting art but who hasn’t got a bean to walk around the outside of the Neue Nationalgalerie building if they want to see the Koons? You’ll see every single exhibit thanks to its perfectly glass walls. And the troubling thing is, if you go in, apart from having to pay, which makes any transaction less satisfactory – just ask a man who frequents prostitutes if you don’t believe me – you might watch the little video about Mr. Koons. And that slightly spoiled him for me. Because while I was quite happy to look at his big bowl of eggs and think, “Hmm,” I was slightly underwhelmed by Koons the man. Nice enough guy. But I wish I hadn’t heard his justification for his works. “All about acceptance.” Drone.

But Klee was far more problematic. Horridly prolific. Wall-to-wall fucking art wherever you looked and downstairs at the NN is loathsomely spacious. Couldn’t get away from the stuff, though I did have one moment of joy when I went to turn another corner, fully expecting another frightful, never-ending vista of more wanking Klee, and it was just an alcove with a fire-extinguisher. The one brief let-up in the whole sorry affair.

But there was a lovely museum-goer with the best intellectual hair I’ve ever seen. A small gent. In his 60s. Jacket, shirt, trousers. Brown shoes, of course. Wandering around with his less intellectual – at least if her hair was anything to go by – wife who nodded spouselily and dutifully at his disquisitions. But his hair was top-hole. A swirling typhoon of hair, which may have had its whirlishness increased by having to double as an extremely elaborate comb-over. But the most extraordinary thing was the pate – is that the word I mean? You know. That bit where all the hair seems to spring from. Where he’d have had a bald patch if he’d had less of his intellectual hair – was just behind his left ear. I was transfixed. Much more interesting than the endless, non-stop Klee.

And the art made me think of potatoes, and how, as I shuffled from one hateful Klee to the next, I’d much rather be engaging with potatoes. Preferably eating them, of course, but, at a push, even looking at them. I’m not sure whether I’d rather have peeled potatoes than be at the Klee but it might have been a close run thing.

So I ended up in Poland. The Russian – for he was with me. You think one of us would have noticed we’d missed our stop when the border police got on, but no – commented, when we took a breather from hijinks, that, say what you like, and Poles may well like to say otherwise, being in Poland does feel just an incy bit like being in Russia. Warsaw looks quite like Russia – all hugeness and parallelograms – and the hustle and bustle of downtown Warsaw feels quite like the hustle and bustle of downtown St. Petersburg and Poles and Russians look quite alike with their chunky men and all the glamour pusses and Poles and Russians abandon themselves to fun, when they have decided to abandon themselves to fun, in the same concerted, uncynical way. It’s very attractive.

We had such fun that the Russian has had to convert to Catholicism and I’ve had to go and rescind my excommunication from the church so that we can quickly join Opus Dei and self-flagellate the pleasant memories away. In the meantime, we have fantasies about moving to Poland. Like Russia, but not. Surely we’d learn the language in ten seconds. And the totty! My god, the totty. We have retuned our souls to their Slavic settings and now have to fight drearily over who gets to wear the best shawl.

But, darlings, the only problem is that Poland gives you choices. If you go to a cash-machine, it asks, “Do you want us to fix the exchange rate now or let your bank do that, kind sir?” When you pay by card, the machine asks, “Shall we charge you in złotys or some other currency of your choosing, kind sir?” Honestly, do these people have no respect for their totalitarian past? I can’t cope with that kind of choice! The whole trip was wasted prevaricating.

But once there’s a lucky dip button on all Polish machines, that’s it. We’re emigrating.


1. Geoff - December 1, 2008

Oh, I love Klee. How can you be so beastly about him (or was it just the sheer volume and art-fatigue sank in?).

While you’re on the Ks – is there still an Yves Klein painting there? There was when I lived in Berlin, and the first time I saw it I was mesmerised. The most incredible blue.

2. Greatsheelephant - December 1, 2008

I’ve always thought there should be a lucky dip or double or nothing button on ATMs – win and you get your money, lose and the bank gets it. It would do a roaring trade as pubs close.

3. narrowback - December 1, 2008

My first visit to the NN I was far more captivated by the architecture than the art therein…so much so I can’t recall what was on exhibit. (must’ve been something with a political tinge)

Then again., I’ve always had a soft spot for MvdR – that Chicago/Berlin connection – not to mention that he almost got booted out of the US during the McCarthy era due to his work on the original (1919) Gedenkstätte der Sozialisten out there in Friedrichsfelde

Were there a lot of forms needed to rescind the exco? Not that I plan on doing so any time soon but the info may come in handy at some point.

4. BiB - December 1, 2008

Narrowback, I had to google MvdR and originally got Minimum Variance Distortionless Response and I thought, “hell, that’s a queer old thing to have a soft spot for,” and then worked out it was Mr. Mies van der Rohe, who, I now see, was born just plain old Mies so I’m now having wicked thoughts that he added the aristo-sounding bit in a horrible display of self-aggrandisement. Though hopefully I’m wrong… And have you seen this? A Kindertransport memorial for you to check out on your next trip. And getting back into the church was easy. A crumpled 5-euro note and a little peck on the parish priest’s cheek.

GSE, but would you rig them so that the machine won as often as a one-armed bandit does? If it was skewed in our favour, then I think it could be a winner. I could do with things turning out on my terms every now and then when I went to buy some money. I’m afraid to say I did once have to punch a cashpoint machine in anger – I do apologise. It was the only act of its kind in 38 years – because it took a second too long to count out my money and I was going to miss a very expensive train.

Geoff, I was being rather an old sourpuss, wasn’t I? Well, it was partly volume and art-fatigue but partly, there’s no way round this, Mr. Klee’s works themselves. I liked him less than I thought I did. I was actually looking forward to seeing him, but seeing every doodle he’d ever done – perhaps some on a slow work day when he’d finished the crossword – did slightly do my head in. But do you mean the Yves Klein was at the Neue Nationalgalerie? They don’t have a permanent exhibition there. Always just temporary ones. So if you saw it there, it will now have been whisked off to some other collection (and is probably sitting wrapped in a cellar somewhere, far from anyone’s loving gaze).

5. Geoff - December 1, 2008

No, they do have a permanent collection – it just gets removed whenever the special exhibitions are on. So wait til the Ks are gone in February and M. Klein will hopefully be back on view soon after, along with my favourite Barnett Newman.

narrowback – it is indeed a fantastic building, deifnitely one of Berlin’s finest (if not the finest).

6. sylvia - December 1, 2008

Living on an island, we don’t get any of that other country stuff without noticing the water first. And besides, in S London, we don’t need to go to Poland, Poland has come to us!
Am off to see the Rothko at Tate Modern on Thursday. Should be interesting and hopefully less of a trial than Gilbert and George a while back. Still, it’s and excuse to go up to the wonderful members’ room with its fantastic view.

7. Geoff - December 1, 2008

Sylvia – the Rothko is GREAT. Also, while you’re there you should go see the Cildo Meireles exhibition at the other end of the same floor if you haven’t already. I didn’t know what to expect but it was well worth it (although I still need to go back to experience the last room, which allows you to wander round barefoot knee deep in talcum poweder. The queue was too big when I was there)

8. BiB - December 2, 2008

Geoff, you have given me a little sharp stab of wanting-to-be-in-London-ness. I love that when I’m there, just being able to pop into museums or galleries for a few minutes if you feel like it. Everything feels quite accessible, in the same way that high culture, for want of a better term, did in St. Petersburg, though there it was less about being free but just because it was such an ordinary thing to do, to go to concerts and ballets and the like. It’s what folk did. It was like going to the pub. And I’ll look out for Klein and Barnett Newman when they come back out of storage.

Sylvia, good, and you already have a personal recommendation. I think I think Gilbert and George are all right. Quite entertaining. Though they probably wouldn’t ever carry me away. And, anyway, with Rothko, you’re going to get a view, which will more than compensate if you do end up not adoring the art itself. Although he does nice splashes of colour, doesn’t he, that Rothko geezer, which should cheer up a grey December day (or even a bright one, if you happen to get a splash of sun)… And befriend some of the south London Poles. I really enjoyed the company of the Poles I had the good fortune to meet on this last trip.

9. narrowback - December 2, 2008

BiB, your wicked thoughts were on the mark –

“Ludwig Mies renamed himself as part of his rapid transformation from a tradesman’s son to an architect working with Berlin’s cultural elite, adding the more aristocratic surname “van der Rohe”. ”

nonetheless, I still like his work.

I hadn’t heard about the kindertransport memorial so thanks for the tip. Hopefully its not a temporary installation ’cause I don’t think I’ll return to Berlin until at least February. This is the longest I’ve been away and I’m starting to jones for a Doner

Geoff – if you like the NN you’d probably enjoy some of his work here in Chicago…Federal Plaza, Lakeshore Apartments, the ITT campus. Did you ever see any of his plans/sketches for his 1922 proposal for a highrise/skyscraper at the corner of Unter der Linden/Friedrichstrasse?

10. marshaklein - December 2, 2008

I went to Tate Liverpool recently and have to say came away feeling a tad curmudgeonly. I tried to compensate by musing on the fact that, despite the reliance of much art nowadays on the skill of the artisan, artists are more celebrated than artisans. Well, it made me feel a bit less like a philistine…

And Poles…mmmm! We’ve had a couple of Polish engineers working here in recent years (sadly no longer) and they were both charming, polite and, be still my beating peri-menopausal heart, gorgeous (and good engineers, to boot!)

11. Geoff - December 2, 2008

Narrowback – no, I haven’t seen those plans. I shall look them up now. Nor have I been to Chicago – it’s somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a while but not got round to yet.

12. Ed Ward - December 2, 2008

I can confirm that the Yves Klein is still at the NN. Saw it there myself some time back. And yeah, it’s pretty amazing. He was a one-trick pony, but it was a nice trick.

And BiB, what was the Klee show about? I seem to remember it focussed on a particular part of his career that didn’t seem too interesting to me.

13. BiB - December 3, 2008

Ed, happy to see you! Hope you’re getting on well down there in France and that any teething problems will soon be behind you. When are you going to appear in your French internet guise? Well, the exhibition is called Das Universum Klee, which I think translates as, “Every god damned work he ever produced”. But, no, the site says otherwise and I do remember wishing I was at an Ensor exhibition when I visited a “…central room of the exhibition [which] looks at the analysis of Paul Klee’s relationship with ten of the most important artists of his time, among them Ensor, van Gogh, Kubin, Kandinsky, Marc, and Picasso.”

Geoff, I haven’t seen them either but shall root around for them. Are you planning on taking in the States on your huge journey? I’ve got a feeling you’re not. But Narrowback and others have told me many good things about Chicago.

Marshypops, you mustn’t think the Russian and I are shallow old things but I must say that it certainly didn’t do Poland’s appeal any harm at all that we fancied 99% of the men we saw there. But, yes, the real attraction was in the way people communicated. Obviously this was small talk, as we didn’t mean any old friends, but it’s so warm. And unbitchy.

Narrowback, I’m guessing it’s permanent. My ex’s extended family took in a couple of Kindertransport Kinder, one of whom, I know, never really coped with her fate. The queerness of the times didn’t help. I think she happened to be watching a cricket match or doing something equally twee with her new family when she was told her parents had, indeed, been murdered. Unfortunately, she would have been told not to cry and to enjoy the cricket.

14. Valerie in San Diego - December 3, 2008

I’m convinced that overexposure and knowing too much about the artist spoil more art for folks than just about anything else. (Though I suppose going to the art museum the day after a night of overindulgence could do it, too.)

In unrelated Polish news, I spent some time this weekend listening to a Pole play beginning hammer dulcimer. First-year hammer-dulcimer tunes are now irrevocably engraved on my consciousness.

15. BiB - December 3, 2008

Valerie, that does sound as if it might be potentially rather painful. Thankfully, none of the very nice Poles I had the briefest of communions with offered to perform anything at all, though our non-Polish host for the weekend did sing at his piano for us, which was lovely.

I remember going to watch that film about van Gogh with… is it Kirk Douglas? Unbearably painful viewing and the friend I watched it with was annoyed she couldn’t remember old Vince’s bio in better detail as then she could have predicted how long of the film was left. Mind you, queer bio or no, Mr. van Gogh does it for me every time. Which isn’t nearly frequent enough. Last time was probably Moscow about 50 years ago, in fact. The Pushkin Museum there has a magnificent collection.

16. ThePenguin - December 3, 2008

Have yet to meet many Poles here in Japan. Quite a few South Asians standing behind the counter in convenience stores, fast food places etc.

17. BiB - December 4, 2008

Pengers, maybe the Poles are only short-distance emigrants. In any case, as is well documented (well documented? Well attested to, perhaps. Even by my sister on the phone yesterday and she lives in the relative middle of nowhere in West Sussex), the Poles have stopped going to the UK in such numbers or have started to leave again or both. I could see the phenomenon easily enough on any Berlin-London flight too. I remember hearing the Catholic schools were very happy to have such a surge in numbers.

18. narrowback - December 5, 2008

while the economic downturn has slowed the immigration of some groups here…mexicans most notably… I’ve not heard of the same impact on polish movement. chicago’s a unique situation though as I’ve heard that we have the second largest population of Poles after Warsaw. There’s always been this on-going populations exchange…some going, some coming, some visiting relatives and picking up a short job on the side…can’t tell you how many times I’ve chatted up a berlin cab driver to find that he’s polish and when I say I’m from Chicago I hear in response “I have cousin in Chicago!”…One advantage is that I can pronounce Zimne Piwo perfectly

BiB, thanks for the chicago plug and I’ll se whay I can do about getting you a check from the local toursit board.

Geoff, it is a VERY interesting city from a number of perspectives. I’m not a native but I’m grown to be a real booster. Do check it out if you get the chance and I’ll point out that I’ve been told that I give a grand tour.

I believe it was Kirk Douglas

19. BiB - December 10, 2008

Narrowback, yes, I’ve heard that too, about Chicago being the second biggest Polish city in the world. I never saw any figures for the number of Poles in London although the Poles (and Latvians and Lithuanians) weren’t afraid to go and work in smaller towns or, indeed, the countryside. The pal I was with told me Warsaw was really booming. 3% unemployment only. Don’t know what sort of shape the country’s in for coping with the current crisis. The Russian did just tell me the Baltic States are teetering on the financial brink.

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