a dog could smear better with its tail

My parents and middle bro had arrived in Cornwall before me, and apparently had interesting enough times for Mum to fall over on some rocks and horribly injured her leg (and finger; the bruises are amazing), which has resulted in no lasting damage but a serious limp. My mum is a total trooper, and would probably walk to John O’Groats on a busted leg without complaining, but it still seemed prudent not to strain her, and so we found suitably close Cultural Enrichment in the form of the town’s apparently-renowned artistic establishment. “Thriving artistic community” usually means “wanker-oriented boutiques”, and there were definitely plenty of those, but the town also has two paid-up Establishment establishments run by the Tate, whose non-Modern corners have been acceptable to my appallingly old-school art tastes (17th century was best century for painting, all other centuries are pale imitations).

So the first item of Cultural Enrichment after I got off the train was a museum and garden devoted to the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, who I quickly learned was famous for her pioneering work in those odd-looking shapeless modern sculptures you’ve seen everywhere. The exhibition and garden were all very well laid out, in that rather pretentious artistic way, and there was some genuinely impressive craft involved (evinced by the incredible collection of fancy files the late Hepworth left behind), but the works themselves did little for me; I’ve seen so many different examples of that “vague forms” style (probably mostly inspired by her; possibly even her actual work) and none of them have evoked any interesting feeling in me. Still, I’ll happily call that subjective; this stuff is so generally vague that you can hardly come up with objective reasons for liking or disliking it (which is probably why I dislike it).

I can without qualification say that the second piece of Enrichment was just rubbish. The Tate St. Ives (one of those rare modern buildings with an actually attractive design, albeit one let down by tacky materials, very shoddy build quality and general neglect; the building has no corners, but they still cut them) had taken out all its actual art to run an exhibition by the painter Alex Katz. Now, credit where it’s due: he does bold colours well, and a couple of his paintings had a certain slightly evocative quality (possibly by random chance); but his work is hideously lacking in technical ability, imagination or at the very least some pretentious statement to rub into our faces. His composition is tedious, his proportions are awful, his subject matter is trite, his detail is childishly inept and he really can’t do hands or feet. (Google imaging his art mostly turns up better pieces than they had at the Tate, which means that either it gains something by being reduced to a hundred pixels a side, or the curators specifically picked out his worst pieces.)

For once my bro agreed with me on this sort of thing, and feeling thoroughly cheered by this mutual outpouring of cynicism and high-handed contempt we headed out onto the headland above St. Ives via one of the town’s impressive beaches, which was chocka with pasty people gradually sunburning. There’s an old gun emplacement on the spit (I’d guess Palmerston era), with one of the barbettes half-filled with concrete and another housing an incongruous little “Coast Watch” (volunteer Coast Guard, apparently) mini traffic-control-tower. We sat watching sparrows and starlings peck grass seeds from the tarmac for a long time, and then, as banks of mist suddenly descended on the sunlit town from landward, hunted down a tasty (if costly, and somewhat small) fish and chip supper on the waterfront, and wandered back home.


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