Go to the Eat café on Baker Street but they don’t seem to have any of the chicken, bacon and avocado baguettes that I like. Drat. The woman at the counter explains there was a delivery problems this morning and suggests that I try the ham and jarlsberg cheese. I’ve had one of these before and they’re ok but, as I explain to her, they’re too dry for my taste – they need some Hellman’s or other lubricant to help them slide past the epiglottis. To my great surprise, she doesn’t hesitate but simply grabs one out the display cabinet, hands it to a passing sandwich-making assistant and instructs him to add some mayonnaise.
What a nice gesture, I think. But then, when I’m sitting down with my pimped up baguette, I realise that the mayo has been sloshed on the cheese a bit casually and quite a lot has been unnecessarily smeared on the outside as well. I can’t help but think that maybe the sandwich-maker, having already filled a thousand different baguettes that morning, wasn’t too enthused about being told by the boss to customise another one. Years ago I read the playwright John Osborne’s autobiography and seem to recall an unpleasant incident where he made a sandwich in anger. What he added to it doesn’t bear thinking about, suffice to say it was worse than the ingredients of Baldrick’s ersatz WWI trench coffee. As far as I could tell, my sandwich-maker didn’t look like too much of an angry young man, just a bit of a sullen one, so I’m probably alright. Although they do say that it’s the quiet ones who end up going postal – and no offence to my hardworking brother-in-law and all the other gallant post office delivery men and women.
The incident with the baguette plays on my mind a bit as I get on the 27 bus but all is forgotten by the time I eventually get to the Winter Art & Antiques Fair at Olympia. Charming displays of objets d’art have been gathered together here, empyting the finest boutiques from all four corners of the home counties. This is where the middle, or maybe that should be upper-middle, classes come to get the trinkets and baubles that so delightfully decorate their large six-bedroom, detached houses in the country with the twin garages and excessively large lawns and…enough of this class war stereotyping…I must have been watching too much of that Corbyn bloke.
Of course the tragedy is that the upper echelons of the British professional classes tend to have such bloody awful bad taste. They come to shows like this and get chatted up by some smoothie salesman who reminds them of their son – or rather how polite, attentive and agreeable they wished their son had turned out – and end up buying the most dreadful sentimental paintings of cats, steeplechases and Dickensian waifs, all stuck in tacky gilt frames. Or, if their walls are already full, they’ll go for pairs of china dogs or a chunky wooden barometer or some ghastly great silver table ornament. Ok, maybe I’m not being entirely fair – amongst all the expensive, tawdry horrors, there are some nice things – a lot of the art deco stuff would be worth pinching and there’s a scattering of Russell Flint nudes that can always be relied upon to raise a flicker of interest. Best of all today there is the most extraordinary display of sculptures by Chen Dapeng, chief amongst which is the truly breathtaking porcelain portrait of Her Majesty. It was featured in the papers the other day and it really is as eye catching as they all said bearing, as it does, an uncanny resemblance to Tom Hanks.
Walking round the stalls gazing at all the opulent kitsch feels a bit like being force fed marshmallows so I make for the exit before I gently suffocate. It feels like it’s about to rain so I jump on the number 10 and head to South Kensington. There’s nothing on at the V&A except exhibitions on shoes and Indian textiles, neither of which interest me, so I walk in the other direction to the Serpentine to see the annual pavilion commission that I forgot to look at the other day. This year definitely seems a bit more avant garde than usual: a combination of metal shipping containers and piles of rubble hidden behinds thin wooden screens. I’m wondering how one is meant to enter this intriguing piece of Post-Post-Modernist architecture when I spot the notice signaling that I’ve arrived too late and the pavilion has just been demolished. I look on the works and despair, in a sort of Ozymandias kind of a way, then make a quick call into the gallery – not to look at the exhibition, which I’ve already seen and which doesn’t require a second look – but for a rummage round the bookshop. There’s the wonderful Lucian Freud on Paper book reduced from £50 to £17. This contains a whole stash of truly marvelous drawings, especially the early, slightly Surreal stuff and I can’t help thinking Freud wasted the last couple of decades of his life churning out those dreary yellow-brown nudes that all look the same. Of course, the problem started when the well-respected, and usually very acute, critic Robert Hughes wrote in some review that Freud was the greatest living figurative painter. All the artworld people with money to spare took this to heart and then felt that it was imperative they must have a Freud in their collection and this pushed the prices through the roof. Like so many of those celebrity portrait painters from the past – Reynolds, Gainsborough, Singer Sargent – Freud similarly couldn’t resist the lure of the lucre and started churning out paintings, oblivious to quality control. If you don’t believe me, have a look at his portrait of Her Maj, it’s on a par with that of Mr Dapeng and not much better than the one that Rolf Harris produced before he became very much persona non grata. Presumably his effort is stuffed right at the back of the Buckingham Palace cupboard along with the fondue set from Ceausescu and the place mats from Gaddafi.
An email from sister Sue directs me to the creativetourist website which helpfully has a list of the UK’s top twenty art blogs – the competition. Have a quick look through all of them and while they’re all very sophisticated, they do seem a bit dull and serious and impersonal. The ones that review art seem to be taking themselves and the art all very much too seriously and the only laugh I get is from the photo of a Pipilotti Rist installation of her underwear hanging out on a line, drying in the wind. Part of the attraction of the piece comes from the fact that I’m fortunate enough to actually own a fully authenticated limited edition pair of Ms Rist’s bloomers, purchased when she had her show at the Hayward Gallery a few years ago. It’s a treasured possession and, while we’re on the subject of artists’ drawers, I’m reminded of the one decent item in amongst a whole lot of third rate figurative dross at a show of Stuckist art I saw some years ago. Charles Thomson’s caricature Sir Nicholas Serota Makes an Acquisitions Decision shows the Tate’s Grand Poobah squinting at a pair of undies and pondering. Are they genuine Emin’s, and so worth thousands of pounds or merely a worthless fake? To buy or not to buy, that is the question.