Lichtenstein – A Second Visit

20130312_212555I’ve not often been to see the same exhibition twice, perhaps because there are always other new things to see, or it might be that if I really enjoyed it the first time, there is a fear that it won’t seem as good the second time around.  In the case of the Lichtenstein show currently on at Tate Modern  it was the invitation of a friend to join him at an evening reception which took me back for a second time.

My first visit had been on Members’ Preview day, where for the cost of an annual fee, I have the opportunity to see the new shows on the day before they are fully open to the public, where there are fewer people around to get in between me and the art work.  The difference between that experience and the one at an evening viewing as a guest of one of the show’s sponsors is like that between flying premium economy and first class.

For a start we were invited to enter the gallery after it had closed for the day; the turbine hall, which before I’ve only ever experienced teaming with noise and people, was near deserted, the lights, apart from some strategically place yellow and red up lighters, were off.  There were fresh flowers and individual cloth hand towels in the ladies toilets, and we were alone on the long escalator that took us up to the exhibition level.  There, we were greeted by waiters holding trays of champagne in flutes and wine in large glasses, and waitresses serving minimalist tasty morsels arranged on perspex boxes.

A young woman, her face painted to resemble the benday dots on a Lichtenstein painting, was playing the violin against a backing track supplied by a serious looking DJ with a lot of kit in the corner.  Red and yellow lights projected more dots onto the floor and the collected guests.  We were all being given an immersive Lichtenstein experience.

After a speech from the sponsor and one from Chris Dercon  the Director of Tate Modern, we were invited to visit the show.  We weren’t the first to leave the bar, but we were by no means the last.  The show was as I had remembered; I was drawn to the same things as before, but, with a different companion this time, the conversation was different.  And when our debates about the attractiveness or otherwise of a weeping blond became lively, or when we resorted to reading the booklet to work out what something was, we found ourselves in conversation with one of the Tate curating team,  strategically placed around the rooms.

There came a moment, in the space dedicated to Lichtenstein’s pastiche’s of other painters’ works, a big room containing several large pieces, that we realised we were the only two people there.  Suddenly there was a temptation to do something that would not normally be allowed, maybe a little dance, or a modest twirl around at the very least (the champagne had been very generously poured)…… I favoured the idea of having a troupe of tap dancers come through, but then I always think that when I’m somewhere with an attractively sonorous wooden floor.

It was such a different kind of experience that I think it may have spoiled me for the usual crush at any future ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions I may attend.  I did particularly enjoy chatting to the curators, especially those being deliberately controversial about the work in the show; it was good to know that the spirit of disputation and tongue in cheek disagreement about quality and commerce thrives there.

It was only when I noticed the lady with the clipboard following us, that I realised we were the last people in the exhibition.  (I should probably whisper this……. I think some people never got further than the bar….)

I had a great evening…..Thank you.

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  1. What a wonderful evening! I used to organise events like that for my sponsors and their guests when I was at Sydney Dance Company – so it’s interesting to hear about a guest’s experience 🙂

    • Thank you. I’ve been to corporate hospitality events before although not for some while, but it was the lavishness of this do which really struck me, as well as the privilege of having the exhibition to ourselves.

  2. Rowena, that sounds like a really wonderful evening (like you, I’m a bit shocked some people didn’t bother viewing the exhibition!). I agree that the pleasure of visiting major exhibitions is often lessened by having to brave a five-deep crowd. I only visited the Manet at the RA on my second attempt for that reason but my son and I were incredibly lucky with the (fabulous) Lichtenstein last Monday when he had the day off school. Maybe it’s because it was extremely cold, but Tate Modern was very quiet, and we really did manage to take in the exhibition without being aware of other people’s presence. What a difference it makes!

    • It does feel like an amazing privilege or tremendous good fortune to have a clear view of the work in a blockbuster show these days doesn’t it? The Liechtenstein was very good, but I did enjoy hearing the various curators arguing the toss on the various phases of his career.


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