Preview – The Dark Monarch @ The Towner Gallery

Last night, Amor and I went to the preview of ‘The Dark Monarch – Magic & Modernity in British Art’ at The Towner Gallery.  ‘Taking its title from the infamous 1962 book by artist Sven Berlin, The Dark Monarch explores the influence of folklore, mysticism, mythology and the occult on the last 100 years of British are, focusing on the landscape and legends of the British Isles.’

We have been to a couple of these types of previews before and were therefore surprised at how particularly crowded and busy this one was.  Upon entry, we were directed up to the second floor.  It seemed there were as many people in the bar area as there were in the gallery.  The rooms were so crowded that we decided to start anti-clockwise in Gallery 4, which seemed to be the least busy, but wasn’t.  This room contained Damian Hirst’s work, The Child’s Dream. I am not a particular fan of Mr. Hirst’s work and this was no exception.  I frankly think he is taking the piss and wonder how he manages to get away with it.  Amor was particularly upset with this piece and said, “How dare he kill a Unicorn!” “And a baby one at that!”  I suggested that perhaps Unicorns maybe small in real life as we hadn’t seen one before.  My one concession to Mr. Hirst:  Although the Unicorn is contained in formaldehyde, the fluid is so clear and free of debris that you can’t really tell that there is any fluid inside the container at all, apart from the smell.  In any event, Amor was outraged so we carried on through the other rooms in order to minimise the trauma.

Walking through the other rooms was a nightmare because of the amount of people there and I was only able to get glimpses of the work on the walls.  When we finally managed to work our way out to the landing, it was decided that we would have to come again when it would be less busy as there were some interesting pieces on the walls that we wanted to see and learn more about.  However, we would have to pay to see it.  Apparently most of the exhibitions are free, but they do a couple of paid exhibitions per year and one must pay to see this particular exhibition.

I suggested we go down to the first floor for some calm in the Collection Gallery (entry free to 11 April 2010).  There are many pieces here that I enjoy looking at and some that I don’t really get.  This started an interesting dialogue between two other women and me about what constitutes art.  How does one get to be an artist that gets their work hung on a wall in a gallery or museum?  Does one need to have a formal education with the letters after their name?  Why does some driftwood with some pretty string wrapped around it get called art?  If one needs to explain it or quantify it with a long winded blurb about what the artist is trying to convey about the work, is that going to make you like it any more just because you have a better understanding of where the artist is coming from?  Going to these exhibitions sometimes brings up more questions than answers, and we had a lively discussion about this for a few minutes while Amor patiently sat down and waited until we were finished.

We finished our tour on the ground floor which contained pieces relating to Occult Philosophy.  Can someone tell me how a painted bookcase containing ‘literature of Surrealism and magic that is vast and varied, stretching from philosophical, theosophical, mystical and religious history, to practical guides to witchcraft, popular astrology and prediction magazines’ constitutes as art instead of just someone’s library?  Amor got very excited as he has a whole bookcase of diving books and magazines and now thinks he has a priceless work of art in his living room.  I wonder if my collection of complementary therapy books and magazines might be worth something!

There was another piece which Amor dubbed ‘The Ikea Collection’ and I will have to find out the real name of it at a later date.  It was basically some white frames without the shelves apart from one, with something like a brain on top of it.  Hmmm!  There were some other people in the room looking rather bemused or confused, so it wasn’t only us.

At this point Amor was so emotional that he had to go outside for a smoke to calm down and left me to finish viewing what was left of the exhibition, but I frankly didn’t have the will without him.  Instead, I collected the flyers on the exhibition to read at my leisure and to prepare me for my next (paying) visit.

When I asked Amor what his opinion was, he told me “it was pretentious crap”, but I wasn’t sure if he was referring to the exhibition or the people that attended.  Amor does have strong opinions and can be quite poetic on occasion; unfortunately this wasn’t one of them.  Maybe there were too many people rubbing against his “ch’i”.  I suggested we go to our favourite Tapas restaurant and fortify ourselves with a bottle of wine and some food.  That cheered him up immensely.  Oh the little things that make us happy.

The Dark Monarch is at The Towner Gallery in Eastbourne from the 23rd January to 21st March 2010.  Entry is £5.50 (£4 concessions) and under 18 are free.  Go and see it.  Really.