Stealing art from Tate Britain: It’s child’s play

Stealing art from Tate Britain: It’s child’s play

I went back to Tate Britain yesterday to take a last look at the ‘Impressionists in London’ exhibition. (It closes on 7th May) I was a bit rude about it on a previous occasion but wanted to see Monet’s wonderful fog shrouded pictures of Big Ben and parliament once again.

I got there bang on 10 o’clock when the gallery opens, brandished my member’s card, and made directly for the Monet’s which are in the penultimate room. Although other punters were invading the earlier rooms, I had the Monet’s and the Whistler Nocturnes to myself.

Wandering out through the Duveen Galleries, the main space opposite the Millbank entrance, I spotted a young couple with two toddlers. The kids were charging about among the statues and generally having a great time. I guess it’s the combination of the open spaces where they can run plus the colours and strange shapes of the art that appeals.

All of which reminded me of an occasion, years ago, when my three-year-old daughter and I paid a visit. We walked in to one of the galleries and were met with the unusual sight and sound of a security guard wearing a blaring walkie-talkie. Perhaps he was upset by one of the more visually arresting Francis Bacon pictures, but he was babbling into a microphone while the radio on his belt was turned up full, so everyone could hear the anodyne chat coming from the control room. There was no emergency underway.

Of course, even though people were irritated, being British, nobody said anything. If you listened closely you could just hear some gentle tutting. Finally, I went up to the guy and asked him to turn down his radio as it was getting on everyone’s nerves. He gave me a shirty look, had me figured as a poncey, pretentious git, but complied.

Meanwhile the daughter was making her way, at some speed, into the next room. When you want three-year-olds to move they stick like glue, but they can give Usain Bolt a run for his money if so minded. I followed closely to see her bearing down on an Anthony Gormley sculpture of fruit laid out on the floor at perfect toddler level.

I kind of knew what was going to happen. Just as the security guard entered, she grabbed a silver pineapple and looking very pleased with herself tore out of the room. The guard approached with a menacing look that seemed to indicate all his Christmases had come at once and that the pretentious, poncey git was going to get it with both barrels.

Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, and before plod could say a word, I raced after the toddler, wrenched the pineapple from her hands, put it back on its pedestal and within thirty seconds the two of us were standing outside with the security guard sucking up the dust from my departing heels. There are some fights you can’t win.

Close-up of a girl's face
Jenny Saville

Last word: Yesterday I also went to see the ‘All too human’ exhibition at Tate Britain. It has spectacular paintings by Freud, Bacon and Kitaj. It also introduced me to a wonderful artist I’d not come across before: Euan Unglow.

Younger painters feature in the last room and the severe close-up of a woman’s face by Jenny Saville really needs to be seen. The exhibition is on until 27th August: Don’t miss it.

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