The Emperor’s new clothes

One of the joys of living in London is the close proximity of all that delicious culture. Naturally, I make absolutely no use of it unless I have to, when guests appear. Then I thumb feverishly through the review sections to get a crash course on what the latest must-see is, how on earth you get to that bit of the city and, most importantly, what I ought to be thinking about it when I get there.

Of course, it is also my sacred duty as a Mummy to expose my treasures to as many good influences as possible. Having signally failed in my private life (My dearest darling True Love! Sniff!), I Must Try Harder to nurture my darlings’ tiny brains and fill them brim-full with a cornucopia of, er, learning, or something. Thus I have dragged my children around countless cathedrals, museums and galleries in a wide variety of European cities, effortlessly putting them off, in no particular order, great art, religion and music. Oh, and walking too. They really, really hate that.

No-one can say I am not persistent, though, so when one of my far-flung relatives came over last week, bringing with her a delightful selection of cousins, neices, nephews and aunts, there was only one thing for it. An exhibition.

Tate Modern was the obvious place. So big! So, er, modern! So concretey! So handily on the 68 bus route from Herne Hill!

Except that it isn’t really that near a 68 bus stop, and after a 20 minute walk to meet the relatives, my little treasures were fit to be tied already, and that was before we’d even got in to the Rothko exhibition, the Tate’s current big show.

I have to admit I’ve never seen the point of Rothko. It is maddening when people say of Jackson Pollock, for instance, ‘that’s not art, a child of two could do it!’, and I tend to brush off my best sneer and dismiss them instantly as philistines. When it’s Rothko they’re talking about, I put my head on one side, muse for a nanosecond, and think, ‘actually, they have a point. And never mind the treasures. My cat could do that.’ Not that Mme Bovary would ever deign get paint on her fur, you understand.

Anyway, there we were, a bunch of teens and pre-teens, me and my darling relative, and deep, dark, gloomy old Rothko. ‘A lot of people find him very, very moving,’ I said, hoping to inspire some sort of interest in the children. ‘Let’s all go in and see if we can feel the emotion!’ Many pairs of cool, near-teenage eyes flicked fractionally upwards to signal a lame adult alert, but I pressed on regardless and we strolled in to a room full of large, looming, red and black canvases. The children made to stroll straight out again, but they were forcibly encouraged to come back and have another go at emoting. No luck. We hurried onwards, tried the slightly smaller, slightly more colourful canvases, then the big purply ones, the half-black, half-white ones (I’m sure Mme Bovary would have got the demarcations clearer) and, finally, the large battleship grey ones. Here, we collapsed onto the bench. Just as I plunged into a despair almost as impenetrable as Rothko’s own, as all the children failed to evince a single, solitary flicker of feeling, my adorable niece piped up. ‘I like that one over there. It’s neat!’

I perked up instantly. ‘Where? Where??’ I shrilled, looking down the long line of steely, cold canvases. I couldn’t quite believe she had found something to love here, but I was certainly willing to make all the other children stand in front of it and try and catch a bit of feeling, too.

‘That one, way down there, right at the end of the gallery,’ she said, gesturing to a grey rectangle a bit longer and wider than the rest.

I looked a bit closer, full of hope and excitement. Then my shoulders sagged. She was pointing to the exit.

But she was quite right, we did all feel an exciting rush of emotion as we rushed through the grey door and straight into the gift shop. It was relief.

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