13 October 2022


A museum?

By Chin Chin

(Robert Kilconner is on holiday.)

“A call for you, Señor.”  My first thought was not to take it. After all, I was on holiday. Probably just one of the editors of the Shaw Sheet offering me some ludicrous post as part of a reorganisation. Motoring correspondent, perhaps? What a complete waste of time. Any oik who could put his face under a bonnet could do that. Restaurant correspondent? Ditto but replace “under a bonnet“ with “around a pork chop”. No, none of that would do for a sophisticate like me. But then, wine correspondent, say. Yes, a sort of cross between Lord Peter Wimsey and Louis Latour; “a free bottle of our most distinguished wine for the famous expert”; that sounded more my scene. Perhaps I would take the call.

I didn’t have any worries about not being up to the job. After all, it isn’t as though I had no palate at all. I’ve always been able to tell cider from beer. As far as the more subtle distinctions go, all you have to do to be accepted as an expert is to talk about “notes”. If the wine is thick and red (no jokes about Scotsmen, please) you talk about notes of blackberry or blackcurrant and you will go down as a cognoscenti. For a white wine, grapefruit will do whilst raspberry and lemon can be thrown about for good measure. The odd reference to tannins in the case of red wines and acidity in the case of whites, and your vocabulary is complete. All that remains is to throw in the word paraffin where you were actually charged for the wine despite explaining that you were an accredited agent of the press.

“Hello, Editor? Chin Chin here.“ I lit a cigarette and raised my voice. One day the admiring locals would be able to recount how they had listened in on the appointment of a giant of the press. “I’ll do it. What did you say? ‘Art correspondent’? Yes, I am in Bilbao. Yes, I suppose I could.” Click.

Oops, that was a bit of a shock. But then, how difficult could it be? Google told me that the best art in Bilbao was at the Guggenheim so I would wander down and have a look at it. It was close to my hotel after all. I sauntered along ready for a few old Masters.

And then a most extraordinary thing happened. It turned out that there wasn’t any art there at all. To be sure there was an expensive looking modern building but there was no art inside. Instead it seemed to have been used for storage with enormous circles of stone and pieces of ironwork standing around on the floor. For a moment I was amazed but then I realised what must have happened. So much money had been spent on the building that there was nothing left over for the art. Understandable of course for a city trying to put itself on the heritage map. Councillors could be photographed standing outside the new museum; wedding receptions could be held there. What was annoying, however, was that I had been charged for a ticket when there was nothing to see.

I went over to the visitor’s desk to make my complaint and was told that I had got it all wrong. What I had taken for pieces of junk were in fact works of modern art and the name Guggenheim was right at the top of the modern art world. I went back and had another look. The amazing thing was how different the various exhibits were. Guggenheim must have had an extraordinary range as an artist and been an expert in many different crafts. One room showed his metalwork. Another showed his work as a stonemason. He had clearly spent his holidays doing tapestry, just like my grandmother. Did the man never read a penny dreadful? Perhaps I could get a volume on his work from the bookshop so that I could write up my article.

Ah, it was not quite as I thought. Some of the works are not by Guggenheim at all. A nice Spanish woman, who kept looking at me oddly, suggested that I should read the labels on the wall which explained the works. But what on earth is the point of that? If art is supposed to be a form of communication then it really shouldn’t be necessary to explain it by written notes. If you have to do that, it is the notes which are the art and the objects are really just background to them. Perhaps then as an art correspondent I should be commenting on the notes, whether attractively written and whether the grammar is right, that sort of thing. With a bit of luck I will be able to get galleries to send me their notes so that I can do my job without getting out of bed.

Cover page image: Ardfern / wikimedia / Creative Commons

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