I am a Living Sign: the Bob & Roberta Smith Diaries

When you’re a poor writer, but enjoy going out, you have to be creative about drinking for free. Private views of new art exhibitions are one of London’s little known treats. Champagne, cocktails or simply beer and wine are handed out to the assortment of visitors, even though very few attendees appear remotely interested in the art. My latest journey into this secret world took me to the opening of Patrick Brill’s latest show.

Patrick Brill in one of his hatsPatrick (frequently sporting a hat) works under the pseudonym Bob & Roberta Smith. I have one of his pieces on my wall and I’ve always thought him an interesting artist. His new show is superb. If you have the chance, it’s well worth a visit to the Hales Gallery in Spitalfield’s Tea Building.

Most of the work, extracts from diaries (I didn’t ask whether real or fictional), takes the form of multicoloured painted signs, dated, that transport the observer to that same period in their own lives. The result was that everyone I spoke to at the exhibition seemed caught up in nostalgia for something.

Bob & Roberta Smith Peace CampBob & Roberta Smith Samizdat

In the central space stand various bronzes, in the shape of painted exotic fruit. The colour scheme matches the surrounding signs so the fit is a good one. Other objet d’art are scattered around the walls, such as this suitcase:

But is it art?For me, much of the joy of an art experience comes with the interaction between the viewer and the art. Like a quantum mechanical experiment, it should be impossible to separate the observer and the observed, so I hate galleries such as the Tate Modern which fence sculptures off when they were clearly designed to be entered, or put up “do not touch” signs when the tactile quality of a work is integral to its appreciation. But I must have been Tated, as it never occurred to me to open this case.

Later, post-exhibition in the pub, Patrick told me that there was “a wonderful object inside” had I only looked. I shall be returning to a crowd-free Hales Gallery soon to discover what it was and view the show properly, without the beer-swilling masses. I’d advise everyone to do the same and, when you get there, not to be afraid to interact.
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~ by keithmansfield on April 11, 2008.

3 Responses to “I am a Living Sign: the Bob & Roberta Smith Diaries”

  1. Just thought I’d pop in for a nosey around. Good blog!

    I wonder what’s in the case.

    Hmm. Boy goes to art exhibition. Opens case. Inside he finds…

  2. Hi Justine – I love the way you see stories everywhere. I was going to come back and report what was in the case, but now I wonder if that will spoil it?

  3. I love Bob and Roberta Smith. Sadly I’ve never had a chance to see any of his work in real life, much less actually meet the man. Jealous!

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