It was dark. The kind of 4pm dark in late London autumn, that strips the colour and life from the streets, leaving a washed out grey monotone. A cold drizzle fell; or rather tried to fall, but was relentlessly tossed back into the air by a sullen wind. I fancied that without the wind, the drizzle would fall down and be done with in a matter of seconds.
The venue was across the street, a menacing grey (of course) concrete and glass monument to 60’s brutalism. A blank faced cube of 4 or 5 stories, the building betrayed no function, yet somehow continued the centuries old tradition of elitism in the art world. It houses modern art now, its brooding presence somehow barking at the approaching public – ‘Abandon hope. This is above you. You won’t understand’</span></p>
Armed with my theses and publications and years of following this twisted industry, I still heard that bark. It just didn’t scare me anymore. Steven Jenner had become a fully paid up member.
As I got closer I saw Martin's ‘understated’ sign –
It was a fairly small black-on-white piece of text, sans-serif, and no border. Supposedly understated, it was, in fact, a shocking pomposity. “The Show” indeed.
For a second, I’m incensed. It punches right through my cynical carelessness and momentarily ignites me. Paul Martin has had a couple of shows in the past, nothing spectacular, nothing that shifted any paradigm. To call this show “The Show” says that it is the show to end all shows. The One and Only. Outrageous.
I couldn’t wait to get in. Let me see this piece of world changing artistic endeavour.
I sprinted across the road, narrowly dodging a speeding bus. It was so close to hitting me. The speed they hurtled those monstrous vehicles around at on
The glass and metal door protested at my push, squeaking as if it didn’t want me inside. For one who attends to detail as anally as Martin does, I was surprised these hadn’t been oiled. It’s warm inside the lobby however, and certainly drier as I looked around for the cloakroom to discard my heavy overcoat.
I’m puffing lightly and as if from nowhere, a woman has appeared in front of me.
“Mr Jenner, welcome to The Show. It’s a pleasure to see you here. My name is
I know I’m not a well known critic and that she would never have known me without being briefed, but it’s nice even that she was briefed. And her smile was so genuine, it was impossible not to return it, however much I wanted to growl and snap.
Somehow my coat has removed itself and is nowhere to be seen.
I’m torn between feeling that the wind has followed me from outside, and feeling that I’ve been had: Her name is
But she’s melted away as abruptly as she appeared. I’m afraid I’ve done a comedy double take – “duh, where’d she go?”- as the
Ok, I think. I’m disarmed and have undergone a brief cynical-ectomy. I have to remember that this is an ‘installation’ – I’m already subsumed within Martins Art and should be critiquing right now. It pays the bills, after all. I wrestle with another oddly unwilling door and enter the main hall.
I appear to be at a down market trade show. The rows of what can only be described as trade stands stretch away in two dimensions. Left/right and Forward. I shrug and move forward, remembering the sign out front and mentally penciling in “Humour?” next to “The Show”. I don’t really take in what people are ‘selling’ at the stands. For a while, I’m content to take in the ambience, which strikes me as soft and reserved.
I feel lighter than I was outside. I’m a slim build anyway, but feel as if something like half of my body mass has been negated. Moving around is fun. I notice my strides becoming far longer than usual, and higher. I experiment with a left foot fall, pushing harder at the ground and I’m propelled higher and farther still. It’s too pleasurable to ponder how or why. I continue getting bolder and bolder with my movement, and it gets easier and easier.
My right hand grazes the top of one of the stands as I pass, and I use it to gently return myself to the blue commercial grade carpet. The top of that stand must be four meters high, or 15 feet. Ok. I shrug. I feel my shoulders move beneath my shirt and blink rapidly. If you’re dreaming, nothing pulls you out quicker than a rapid blinking session. Nope, it appears I’m wide awake here.
I’m suddenly entranced with another of Martin’s Installation-Actors – a young woman passes me in a silver and black dress, blonde hair piled atop her head as if it met with a happy accident. She looks at me, smiles intimately - as if she knows me extremely well, and carries on, making a left turn and disappearing around the corner. The mode of her attire is somewhere in the mid 60’s
I see a man beckoning me to his ‘trade stall’, and it breaks into my reverie.
I’m feeling like I should go. Perhaps this installation is driving me, rather my being able to take a step back and observe more critically, but I submit: It’s not exactly an unpleasant way to explore this piece of work.
The man rubs his hands in a mercantile manner as I approach his stand. I can’t imagine a transaction occurring here, i dn't even think I'm carrying any cash, but I’m intrigued as to the extent of this illusion.
“I know what you want” He says, all salesman grin and bonhomie. He’s leaning on his right forearm, nailing me with an intense focus.
“You do, I’m sure.” I’m smiling. Bring it on, Sales Man.
“I sure do” He says.
I stand there. I’m not buying. Make me buy, I think.
I laugh as he extends his hand. Somehow it’s a funny situation.
“It won’t cost money, Sir,” He says “Just a shake of my hand”
I’m shaking hands with the man before I know it. What do I want? I think. I don’t even know myself, so this ought to be good. I drive a nice car, have a great apartment in the city, earn enough money and have good friends. What DO I want?
“Polypropylene” He says, deadpan. A minute passes.
“Plastic? I want plastic?”
It’s his turn to laugh, not unfriendly, but with me. I must have a blank face. I'm clueless.
“Polly” he says, jerking his head in the direction of the recently departed enchanting 60’s girl. “Polly Propylene is her name.”
Of course it is.
“You’ll find her downstairs, man.”
I’m thinking about plastic as I move on: About 60’s brutal concrete architecture and garish plastic. This is another juxtaposition that complements as well as bacon and eggs and Cagney and Lacey. Polypropylene: Wasn't that product launched in the shape of millions of Hula-Hoops? Brightly coloured Hula Hoops and girls gyrating. It didn’t matter that the architecture and the allusion to Hula Hoops are not-quite contemporaneous. It was close, and certainly to my 30 year old self, the two things were practically neighbours.
Fairly bounding along now, drifting sideways as I mentally drift between fashions and trends of a time before I was born. My shoulder bumps a stand, and mini explosions of kaleidoscopic light spread around me, like a visual glockenspiel. I spin 90 degrees so that I’m facing the left hand turn as I land. I want to giggle, but I’m a full grown man, researching for a serious critique of a serious artist.
It occurs to me that the
I see ‘Polly’ ahead, talking to a silver haired man. I only see her from behind, but I’m reeled in and tapping her on the arm before I’m aware that I’ve moved. Dreadfully rude, too, to intrude on her conversation in this way, but I didn’t actually have much to do with it. I’m a passenger here.
“Hi, Polly” I say. I almost follow this fantastic opener with “Long time no see” or some such banality, because of the powerful feeling that we know each other so well, but of course I don’t.
“Hey, Steven,” She knew my name, of course. “Welcome to The Show. It’s good to see you” She’s smiling that incandescent smile, and my skin tingles. I haven't been affected by a woman in this way since... I don't remember... since something happened. Whatever, I don't care. I smile back, she smiles some more.
“Well,” She says eventually, gesturing to the silver haired man. “You know Paul, of course”
Oh man, it’s Paul Martin himself, and I hadn’t even noticed.
“Of course I do. How are you Paul?” I shake hands with my old mentor. It suddenly comes back to me that it isn’t going to be easy to critique the man who bought art alive for me and led me through my undergraduate years.
“Steven, I’m so pleased you could make it” He’s genuine, apparently.
“Wouldn’t have missed it for the world” I say.
“Of course you couldn’t” He says. He’s amused by this.
He’d palmed me a copy of the ‘catalogue’ for his show – in the process of critiquing this effort the concept that somewhere here were ‘works’ that could be sold had passed me by. I flipped rapidly through the pages. Knowledge, understanding and unbridled joy appeared to be his wares. It suddenly made sense. I looked back to Polly, and noted her look of satisfaction. She knew that the penny had dropped. Paul was smiling too, still a teacher, still teaching.
I turned to the back of the catalogue.
A Steven Jenner Production
I recalled the bus in the street outside. I hadn’t made it after all.