A tale of two bridges (with apologies to Dickens) or Adrift in “The Baltic”
The first in a series of visits to North-East Galleries and Museums Mike Cunningham
The first bridge was built as an easy walking route from St. Paul’s Cathedral to the Tate Modern, a central London Gallery set inside a transformed power station, which promotes and presents modern artists in the vibrant setting of the Turbine Hall and surrounding rooms. The bridge itself gained a certain notoriety as the ‘wobbling’ bridge, mainly due to a lack of engineering design supervision which allowed lateral vibration (resonant structural response), which built up movements within the bridge structure. These problems were sorted out once the engineers accepted responsibility, and the bridge, as well as the Gallery, have both merged seamlessly into the London ‘experience’.
Not so happy an ending for the second of these bridges, which spans the River Tyne between Newcastle and Gateshead quaysides, and gives access to the Baltic Gallery. Although lacking in any of the construction and installation trials which beset the first bridge, and also while it is both aesthetically pleasing and modern in design, the idea fails because of what the bridge leads to. The big monolithic slab of the old flour mill structure, transformed at a cost of some $64 million of British Lottery money into a “Centre for Contemporary Art”, designed and transformed by a mixture of local politicians and nervy “art experts” neither works, nor inspires! The visitor crosses the bridge and approaches the entrance, which divides the space between a very pricey fast-food café and a shop where the very naive or foolish can buy “Baltic T-shirts” at grossly inflated prices.
The ground floor holds an exhibit constructed by one Fabien Verschaere, and is supposed, it is alleged, to represent a world between dreams, fairytales and nightmares!
Another floor display is entitled “Freakshow” and is a collection of wall-hanging paintings, stylised “sculpture” of everyday objects inside a whirlwind, a huge skeleton of a dinosaur; and is supposed to comment upon the future of the human species.
The third exhibit features the video recordings, made by a Ukrainian, of his fellow Ukrainians getting plastered with mud, then going into a lake and washing it all off.
The fourth exhibit consists mainly of quite small photographs of street scenes, buildings and other ephemera by a singer/poet named Patti Smith.
Another display is alleged to be an allegorical salute to the work of Andy Warhol, inclusive of one very large wall completely covered with copies of an unfinished crossword puzzle.
As I am a severely practical man, trained as an Engineer, with my roots firmly in reality, I can only describe my own reactions to the “art” which is spread out, at some major expense, one presumes, over five large floors of this gallery. I have visited, and enjoyed, some of the world’s great art collections, ranging from the collections in the National Gallery in London’s Trafalgar Square; through the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York, on to a municipal gallery in Johannesburg, and thence on to the Museé d’Orsay and the Louvre galleries in Paris. I have seen and enjoyed the works of Degas, of Picasso, of Rembrandt and of Van Gogh. I do not believe that I have a closed mind to things new in any way, as I have, for instance, become computer literate in order to communicate my own ideas in print; but I must really object, in the strongest possible sense, to this farrago, this mish-mash of ridiculous rubbish being called “art” in any terms whatsoever!
I have looked at a Japanese garden of raked stone, and seen what was in the designer’s eye, despite the lack of reference points, I have looked at masterpieces of Renaissance painting, and recognized genius in the very brush strokes which formed the paint into such intricate patterns as to defy knowledge of how it was done, but I just cannot view this collection as anything else but a large block of pretentious rubbish, placed at, I imagine great cost, in order to tell the visitor “Look at how clever I have become, when you don’t even know what I am supposed to be saying?”
There are but two images which I add to this article to add weight and balance; the first is of little infant baby Abigail, the five weeks old daughter of one of the very few visitors, and already a charmer!
The second is an item I was searching for from the moment I entered this expensive, costly tissue of lies and rubbish!