Sunday, 23 January 2011

Best Markets in London: Collectors Market, Haynes Lane, Crystal Palace

This is a little hidden away gem of a market. Think Brighton's Snoopers Paradise, except that Haynes Lane Market is not just on one floor like Snooper's (I know the Brighton shop is massive, and there really is no call to criticize it for not having another floor. It's just lovely to know when you're walking through a market that there is a whole another level waiting for you...Also, Snooper's is run on a different principle for many of their goods - they rent out sections to people who want to sell their vintage stuff.) At Haynes Lane, just when you think you've reached the end of the shop, you realize that the hidden corner, behind the meter-long pearls and faux-fur coats, actually leads down to another floor of goodies. This market is heaven if you like a good rummage.

There exist vintage and antique shops where you could walk around in fifteen minutes and see every single thing on offer. Not so in Haynes Lane. The upper floor is sequin and lace heaven, with off-the-shoulder cocktail dresses, Edwardian-style velvet jackets, and lots of lace, and you're just as likely to find a tin Victorian box advertising "Murray's special mixtures," as cheap LPs, tinsel and beads to make a magpie sob with happiness, and cups and plates galore.

Downstairs there is a series of shops that sell craft items, clothes, mirrors and furniture. And there is a shop whose proprietor said "It's only books" when I poked my head in for a moment - he meant it as a deterrent, not a sales pitch. Hmm....

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The Call of the Mother Ship: Anish Kapoor

I visited Anish Kapoor's exhibition of four sculptures in Kensington Gardens on a January afternoon, one of those days with half-hearted rain and grim-looking Londoners marching stoicly forward with their satellite-dish-size umbrellas. Looking out of my window I had definitely been struck by Sticky Couch Syndrome, but then guilt and shame overcame my laziness, and I trudged through the mud and the tube congestion all the way to Ken Gardens.

I do like Kensington, despite the estate agent windows at every street corner that scream about the trillion-pound studio apartment to be had on the top floor of a high rise building overlooking - and this would give me nightmares - the Albert Memorial, and the gentlemen in suits, ties, overcoats and a monocle, walking their ping-pong-ball-size poodles. I like the charity shops on Church Street, and Luscious Organic with the hippie-Europeans behind the counter, and the knot of people salivating outside Whole Foods. On this occasion, I successfully ignored the SALE! SALE! SALE! signs that promised me that I wouldn't have to pay anything at all for a handbag if I would just trade in my future grandchildren - despite the obvious temptation - and walked straight to Ken Gardens, keeping my eyes focussed on the ground in front of me, and muttering to myself "I won't stop and look, I won't stop and look."

Luckily, inside the grounds of the Gardens, there was a convenient map pointing out the location of Kapoor's sculptures. Or at least it would have been convenient if I could decipher it. As it was, all I could tell from standing first one way, then the other (aligning myself to the very profound thought "You are here"), looking up at the park, looking down at the map, up, then down, then all around, was that the sculptures were certainly not where I was. Somehow, through the medium of walking away from myself, I came across C-Curve, a large, intensely reflective sculpture that threw back at me an image of the Gardens, and my own image, no matter where I stood in relation to it. (Here I saw a shifty looking loiterer getting ready to talk to me and I gave him a forbidding look, but he turned out to be a security guard and in fact very helpfully pointed out all the other sculptures to me in the distance.)

The thing is - and I'm not sure I should admit it in case the art police come to arrest me - I'm not enthralled by Anish Kapoor. His work is interesting, true, and it does make you think, but I don't feel the gushing shock and awe that most art critics seem to feel about his work. I've tried to access it, I mean, I don't want to feel that I'm missing out on a profoundly life-altering experience, or that I'm lacking in an essential perceptive faculty, it makes me wonder what is wrong with me, after all - but in the words of Van Morrison, I'm not feeling it...No doubt this is some sort of lack in me, and in my ability to be capitivated and moved.

The good thing about these sculptures is that they heighten your appreciation of your surroundings, and you stare mesmerized at the pair of swans in the foreground of Sky Mirror that reflects the passing clouds, and a family of ducks that trails Sky Mirror (Red) which also ignores such petty creatures and keeps itself loftily focused on the greyness of the heavens. But, on the other hand, the scuptures are simply distortion mirrors, right? They look like they will apparate you into the mother ship at a moment's notice if you're not careful, or, to be less M Night Shymalan about it, that they are merely there to clarify your cable signal. So, um, what?

I get it. I really do. Kapoor's art isn't meant to be pretty. It is meant instead to bring into sharp relief the fractured, hyper-industrialized nature of our post-modern existence, and the messy world we live in where we are always coupled with our iPhones and iPads and Starcucks lattes. The only trouble is I don't need a £19million sculpture of convoluted metal limbs in the 2012 Olympic Village to tell me that. I want art to show me what else is possible, what other kind of beauty. How petty bourgeois of me. I'm telling you, this blog entry is going to come back and bite me.

Kapoor says that these reflective sculptures, here, in their current home (till March 13), are meant to focus our attention on the changing light and the changing seasons, and the relationship between the ground and the sky. And yes, they do do that. It's just that I get the feeling that I get that anyway, simply confronted by nature as it is, rather than reflected back at me through a mirror. It's funny, because, in general, I find reflections meditative, zooming your attention to the present moment like nothing else can (like in a river or the sea, or one of those infinity mirrors where there's you in one mirror within another mirror within another mirror and so on, or those 3-D pictures where an image pings out at you when you stare at it and let your eyes blur over). But somehow that didn't happen with these sculptures.

As one Ken Garden visitor standing next to Non-Object (Spire) said, "It's all horribly modern, isn't it?"

Check out my short review on and a longer review on