Great art and great food are two things that London has built itself a reputation for over the last decade. But recently I’ve noticed that both scenes are facing a crisis. No, it’s not the economic meltdown engulfing our European neighbours. It’s not the nationwide recession here in the UK, or even the existential concern about whether gastronomy qualifies as art. It’s a crisis for the consumer, the customer, the art connoisseur.
Grayson Perry at the British Museum, Lucian Freud at the National Portrait Gallery and Damien Hirst at the Tate Modern are just a few of the titanic exhibitions which have been staged in the capital recently. But aside from being a varied and impressive reflection on the strength of British art, what do they all have in common?
Advanced bookings. Tickets for specific dates and times. Thought you’d pop along spontaneously on a Saturday afternoon? Think again. It’s highly unlikely you’d get in.
On the other side of the fence sits a new wave of restaurants which have been opening up across the city over the last year or so. From Corner Room in the east, to Burger and Lobster (where, you guessed it, there are two things on the menu), and the mighty MEATliquor to the west. Great food – stunning reviews. But if you want to book a table there on a Saturday night it’s not even an option. Whoever you are, whatever the occasion, you get in the queue.
I can understand the arguments behind these decisions. It’s the democratisation of the eating establishment and a chance to keep things neighbourhood-based. It’s a safe and fair way to share access to exhibitions which may be heavily oversubscribed. But I can’t help feeling like they’ve got it the wrong way around. The galleries have taken some of the magic out of experiencing art, the fun of the snap decision to go and “do” something. And while I’m all for spontaneity on the social front, I’m not sure that standing outside in a line for an indefinite amount of time is exactly what I want when I’m going out for some dinner with friends. It’s enough to make your stomach rumble.
It’s not all bad news. The aforementioned Corner Room, for example, now takes lunch bookings. And you might be able to squeeze in on the door if you can get to an exhibition on a weekday. As with many things, a bit of compromise goes a long way.
Take the BBC Proms, for example. London’s annual classical music festival that takes place in the grand Victorian architectural masterpiece of the Albert Hall is about to commence. You can book a seated ticket in advance and enjoy one of the many concerts staged there from next month in comfort. Or if you fancy a bit of spontaneity, the promenading tradition remains. In true British fashion you can queue outside for hours, come rain or shine, and then watch three hours of Gustav Holst and Edward Elgar while standing up.
I guess it would depend on your mood which you might decide. But at least the choice is yours.