I'm in the Hamburger Kunsthalle as I write, the museum Pop Life travelled to after it's stay at Tate Modern. I'm eating chocolate buttons, looking out over the frozen lake, waiting for my friend Regina to finish work and remembering last night at Max Wigram's Gallery.
I was at Max's with an artist friend who likes to 'network' by approaching complete strangers she recognises – art world movers and shakers and whatnot – and saying "hello". The only problem is that once she's said "hello" she's not sure where to take the chat. So she's started to use the classic ice-breaker, "do you know Beverley?" whilst looking around at me apparently expectant that her latest victim / new friend will fall at my feet in awe. So far it hasn't been that successful.
With Nicholas Serota at a Marlborough pv a few months back a beastly chat ensued about women artists in Tate's Collection. I think he thought I was trying to have a go at him. Up went a wall of excruciatingly polite if slightly irritated defensiveness that meant the conversation went exactly nowhere. It was fair enough, I expect people have a go at him all the time about one tedious political issue after another – bloody BP, bloody women artists, bloody Turner Prize. I was just trying to be jolly but mea culpa, I should have said, "crumbs, Ai Weiwei's wonderful," and left it at that. Note to self for next time: you can't go wrong with a banality as long as it's generous and reasonably sincere.
With Jay Jopling, friend herself managed a question about Mona Hatoum's material of choice. "Errr, steel," said Jay, giving the work a friendly, slightly proprietorial pat, as though it were his PA's bottom.
With Max though I think we reached an all time high.
Friend: Max, did you know Beverley lives in the same road as you?
Max: Really? I live in Bassett Road
Me: So do I
Max: So do I
Me: So do I
After that things just got better and better. Actually I shouldn't be a smart arse. Max was very nice and Edwin Burdis' work was not un-interesting.
The gallery walls were covered in cut out paper drawings of what I thought might have been mushrooms, my devout Catholic friend thought were used condoms but were actually, Max informed us, knives. Soft edged knives with tiny handles that wouldn't be very effective at their job. We were pondering on what this might signify when the performance began…
Burdis was sitting at a desk with a laptop on it, drinking a beer. Amidst the gallery chatter he started to sing. "Shake, rattle, we're in a hole…. shake, rattle we're in a hole… shake, rattle, we're in a hole… shake, rattle, we're in a hole…" over and over and over, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. He stood up and wandered about the gallery. Then he put a silk scarf over his head. Then he took it off and looked at us - the select gathered audience - a bit seductively or something like that, one eyebrow cheekily cocked. All the while singing, "shake, rattle, we're in a hole."
He was wearing blue tracksuit bottoms, a blue office-work type shirt with sweat rings, perhaps belying some level of anxiety or perhaps just because he was a bit warmish, and a pair of trainers. He had a good voice but I'm not sure that was the point being it was all chorus and no verse. I don't think he was singing us a song. I'm not quite sure what he was doing actually but it wasn't a problem, I still enjoyed it. If I only enjoyed things I understood I wouldn't be having a particularly fun time for the most part. And I wouldn't be learning anything either. So I'm OK with baffled.
After probably about 10 minutes or so "shake, rattle, we're in a hole…" stopped. There was a short not uncomfortable silence and then Mr Burdis, rather charmingly and modestly, nodded his head into his chin and with the words "that's that then," ambled towards his desk. Then everybody clapped and Max stepped up and thanked Edwin saying it takes "real bollocks" to get up and do such a thing.
Back in Hamburg and I've just looked around the exhibition entitled Overpainted. Smudged. Erased. The Portrait in the Twentieth Century. A wonderful museum and an interesting exhibition featuring, incidentally, twenty-two artists of which five were women. Twenty-three percent. I'm not sure what that tells me. Just that Overpainted. Smudged. Erased. features twenty-two artists of which five are women I suppose and, in a way, not a great lot else. We'll just leave it at that I think. Don't want to upset anybody unnecessarily.