Posts Tagged ‘british museum’

Resto 32 Great Court, British Museum

July 9, 2017

The Great Court used to be a family favourite when it first opened at the beginning of the millennium. However, over the years its standards declined quite markedly as it seemed to lose a sense of purpose – did it want to be a destination restaurant or did it want to be the kind of place the average tourist would think to pop into with the kids? But I’d heard good things since its revamp under Benugo management and as we were there for an evening of Hokusai (highly recommended) we thought we’d give it a go.

The ‘room’ of course remains unchanged. Nestled under Foster’s great glass roof though sadly one can no longer see into the Reading Room.* The décor is light and airy with generously-sized tables. Service at first was a little slow but improved subsequently. I went for the themed Japanese inflected dishes, starting with a teriyaki swordfish and finishing off with a green tea mousse. The swordfish was delicious but beware, it comes sans stodge; I was glad to have laid in a round of bread and butter on the side. I’m not much of a dessert man but this one I demolished very quickly, aided by an inspired decision to get a Grand Marnier to go alongside it.

With a bottle of wine the bill came to around forty quid a head which is not cheap but did reflect good value for the quality of food and ambience. I’ll be back.

8/10

#Food #London

*As an aside it’s an absolute disgrace that the Reading Room, one of the great sites of global intellectual history, is no longer open to the public. I do hope the new Director has plans to re-open it.

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Two exhibitions at the British Museum

March 26, 2017

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All the publicity for the British Museum recently has been for The American Dream, a show about prints from the past sixty or so years in the States. If you pair it  with America Between the Wars at the RA you can get a pretty good overview of the art of twentieth  century America. At the cost of quite a lot of shoe leather – neither show is negligible.

The BM’s is the more extensive however, more extensive and more comprehensive than I’d imagined it would be. Up front are the star names – Warhol, Rauschenberg (haven’t we seen enough of him lately?), Johns and Jim Dine.

The last I admit was new to me, which made him the most interesting of the nominated big three, who get their own rooms pretty much. Dine’s Red Design for Satin Heart was truly a thing of beauty. I won’t reproduce it here because as a digital image it looks a bit Clintons Cards. You have to see it in situ. Dine is more interesting than Oldenburg (who has a few prints up front) in his monumentalisation of the ordinary, for example with his print of paint brushes. He makes his re-contextualised implements living subjects whereas Oldenburg it seems is more concerned with artifice.

Then up comes Ruscha. Was I rattled by the Ruscha? (There’s one for all the Pavement fans out there.) Well, not really, it seemed that his processes – for example his use of gunpowder in print-making – were more interesting than the things he produced. Once you’ve seen three or four rooms half-full of slick stuff satirising ad-land you start to wonder whether the satire was ever there in the first place, except as a counter-cultural rhetorical device.

It was at this point (about halfway through) that I came to the opinion that the exhibition was far too big to take in in one go. But I ploughed on because in London, with so much going on, one’s best intentions of going back to a place rarely see fruition. And this is where I got a bit annoyed.

Minimalists were up next but then what’s this? The last three rooms are dedicated to Aids, women artists and black artists. And I question the whole basis of that. Because your average punter is likely to be art blind by the time they get to these rooms and therefore possibly miss some compelling work.

If the curators were going to switch to such an explicitly thematic approach I wished they’d front-loaded these rooms so that they were the first things that the public sees. Were they scared that if the punters couldn’t see a friendly Warhol from the door (well, not that friendly, it’s an electric chair) that they wouldn’t dare venture inside? Do the public have to be sold the familiar constantly?

I’m not arguing that Raschenberg/Warhol/Johns et al aren’t interesting or important, just that their work is so familiar that you only need to close your eyes to conjure it up. On the other hand I hadn’t seen ANY work by the artists in the last two rooms devoted to women and ethnic minorities (oh, except for another Warhol, who is represented by a depiction of a race riot, which seemed banal in the extreme next to much more complex work by less famous artists on the same subject of racial tension and radicalism in late twentieth century America). The unfamiliar isn’t necessarily obscure because it’s less interesting. As the Guerilla Girls point out.

So I would recommend going to the exhibition and starting at the last room. Your mind will be freshest to soak up the wonderful work of unfamiliar artists. If you’re as ignorant of American art as I am. Do not miss Kiki Smith’s Born 2002, which has the best wolf ever. Or Dotty Attie’s Mother’s Kisses which the label po-facedly informs us ‘hints at incest.’ Hints at like the Sistine Chapel hints at Christianity.

And the other show? Well, you’d hardly know it was there given the lack of press attention or indeed publicity for it in the museum itself. Just a discreet sign pretty much by the door of the prints gallery if I’m not mistaken.

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It is a wonderful thing. You might at first glance think it’s just for the connoisseur when you see Victorian depictions of the English countryside by the yard as you enter the room. But anyone could find something to their taste in here as the art gets far more radical as you progress around the room. Which is not to say that there aren’t things of genuine beauty – of course Turner, Constable and Cotman blow everything else away.

But I was taken by the unexpected depictions of London in watercolour. Especially this week. A Nevinson of Air Street and Piccadilly Circus tube under construction has a bus fleetingly viewed through a half-built Regent St Quadrant. Joseph Parnell’s Balloons Over London showed barrage balloons over the Thames at Battersea during WW1. But not barrage balloons as I imagine them – big fat silver sausages. These balloons are dainty Montgolfier affairs. Montgolfier turned sinister.

And best of all Henry Moore, London Skyline. St Paul’s is central to an extraordinary composition of a sheltering family, seemingly sheltering in the womb of London while wraiths stalk a fractured landscape. But St. Paul’s, like The Dude, abides. London is the place for me in good times and bad. Oh, and the watercolours are free.

#BritishMuseum #AmericanDream #London #Art

Korean Art in London

January 23, 2017

There’s a welcome return for Park Seo-Bo at the White Cube Gallery, this time with a move away from the pale tones of his previous exhibition to the seething blacks of his ‘zigzag’ paintings.

Their seething, shimmering intensity doesn’t really come across in my photographs. canvases that have been primed with reds have thick, dark paint applied and scored across with diagonal gestures that give a metallic tang  reminiscent of industrial flooring.

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The large landscape at one end of the room is interesting but my favourite was a small canvas to one side. Fiery red patches are glimpsed between thick smodges of black impasto that has been torn and twisted, gouged and thumbed into shape. There’s a violence in the application that is far from the serenity of the work I’d seen by Park before.

Such expressionistic intensity is in marked contrast to a smaller display up the road at the British Museum. While visiting the South African exhibition (a disappointment that wore its politics too overtly on its sleeve for my taste) my attention was drawn to a small case by the rear entrance to the museum.

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It houses art from North Korea – two canvases, one celadon vase and a medal.Of the four pieces the vase was the most interesting to me. It depicts a modern city using ancient techniques in  curious mash up of modernism and traditionalism. The paintings on the other hand are good old fashioned socialist realism; unintentionally kitsch propaganda that is quease-inducing given the misery meted out to its own population by the DPK and the threat posed to its neighbours.

The art in each of these exhibitions seems to embody the difference between open and closed societies – the one engaged with the world and emotionally charged while the other is false and unconvincing. It’s one of the strengths of the British Museum that it acts as a cultural link with less open societies than our own, and its policy of encouraging loans from places difficult to visit really underpins its mission as a museum of world culture.

#Art #London

Review #71 Bi Won, Bloomsbury

August 24, 2016

After a quick look at the Sunken Cities exhibition (recommended … also featuring an unexpected familial connection on the sponsorship side of things!) we were looking for hearty food. Bi Won delivered.

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Bi Won is right next door to Cocoro (where we went last week) and so making a comparison between the two is inevitable,. But that would be slightly unfair as while they both offer Asian food they do offer distinctly different menus, which is not always the case with Japanese and Korean restaurants. For example, Bi Won doesn’t offer sushi/sashimi on its starters, although the battered starter selection was reminiscent of the tempura next door but a bit on the heavier side. Which wasn’t such a bad thing as I was ravenous.

Being early arrival they plonked us at a table for four in the window from where you get a good view of people milling around on Coptic Street or hurrying down New Oxford Street on the way home from work. The menu was all in English so despite my inexpertise at Korean food even I know that their stews are bibimbap but I guess this is tourist central and there’s a menu for the regulars and a menu for the visitors.

Well, I took the spicy kimchee pork stew and it was perfect. Fierce heat and good sour cabbage interspersed with strands of porky good stuff. Seaweed on the side was a bit overpriced for what it was, as was a kimchi to share. With a good portion of rice after a starter you really only need the main course. Max beer was good and malty and helped mitigate the heat of the stew.

With good service (included in the bill) I was happy to pay around twenty quid a head. It reminded me that I must go back to Dotori in Finsbury Park this year, which in my experience is yet to be improved upon for this kind of informal Asian cooking.

7/10

To see where else I’ve eaten in 2016 go to the GoogleMap here

Review #27 Pizza Express, British Museum

March 18, 2016

For me this Pizza Express is the original and the best. I’ve been coming here for over twenty years and in a normal year I would eat here about once every couple of months. Anyone who read my review of their branch in St. Paul’s in 2013 will know that I’m an admirer of their operation. So obviously I’ve made a massive tactical mistake in using it up so early in 2016, in a central London location (as PE is a dependable option when you’re alone in a strange town), and on a one-man mission to boot!

My bad.

Well, not really. I was ravenously aware of the  need to lay in some bait before the Fullback quiz and I had a pizza sized hole in my stomach. I used to bring my infant children to this branch after school and before I abandoned them to the Birkbeck nursery while I improved my mind. It brought genuine nostalgic warmth to my heart when I saw that the manager on duty on this evening was the same one who used to welcome us all in on cold Tuesday evenings all those years ago. Such continuity is rare in the West End.

The room itself is a bit echoey but it’s in a beautiful old building that has been carefully tended over the years. You get a mixture of regular locals like me and tourists like the big family at the round table in the centre of the room. It feels homely. The pizza, as ever, was just right and washed down with a slug of Chianti made me a very contented man.

I strolled off to contribute to a narrow win. A good day.

9/10

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap


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