|From top to bottom: the new Cabinet gallery; Ashley Bickerton Bali painting; staircase, Newport Street gallery; Pacman Ghost on side of pub, Lambeth High Street; terracotta and glazed tiles, Southbank House|
The last time the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens contained any kind of pleasure – of a legal, civilised kind anyway – was round about 1850. Since then it’s fallen into despair but, lo and behold, the area is being regenerated. We visited on a fine afternoon, the day before St George's Day, and there was a St George's festival on and it felt like a village fete, with a Punch and Judy show, sword fighters and stalls. There were donkeys on display, come from Vauxhall City Farm on the other side of the gardens. Old style jazz was billowing out of the lovely Tea House Theatre cafe (which blissfully doesn't serve coffee), where a slice of their stale cake sets you back £5 (worth having once for the experience).
I’d been earlier in the week to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens to visit Cabinet, the gallery having recently moved from east London and now residing below offices in a purpose-built structure on the corner of the gardens. Though I was none too inspired by Pierre Guyotat's childlike sketches of figures with huge dicks, it's nice to see another gallery in the area. Five minutes walk out of the park in a converted Victorian building, once a school, is Beaconsfield Contemporary Art gallery on Newport Street. We popped in to see their current exhibition, Meditations on the Anthropocene, which consists of huge black and white screens in large dark rooms, slowly animating, with discordant, creepy music. In other words, a Disney horror movie shot by Tarkovsky (perhaps). There's a nice vegan cafe downstairs.
Damien Hirst's Newport Street gallery is at the other end of the road. My usual stock response to being asked about his gallery is the staircases are better than any of the art, but I thoroughly enjoyed the playful new Ashley Bickerton exhibition. The shark in a strait jacket on the exhibition’s website homepage does no justice to Bickerton’s work which encompasses sculpture, photography, sculpture and graphic design. My daughter naturally preferred the scary monster heads with bird of paradise flower tentacles coming out of their heads, but I loved the lurid Bali paintings with their ornate wooden frames depicting traditional Balinese life, whilst the painting themselves show a kind of psychedelic modern Bali.
An interesting interview with Bickerton by Paul Theroux (how has his talentless son, Louis, eclipsed his father, one of the best travel writers of his generation? Oh yes, because pa writes books and son is on TV. Louis' recent film, My Scientology Movie, is a Nick Broomfield-esque textbook documentary about failing to make the documentary you intended; Tickled, by contrast, a recent documentary about competitive tickling, is a fascinating piece of investigative journalism where both you and the filmmaker start off thinking it's going to be about one thing, only to discover it's about something else entirely) can be read on the Guardian website.
On the corner of Lambeth High Street and Black Prince Road is the spectacular Southbank House, the only remaining example of the Doulton pottery complex in the area. This Grade-II listed building is being turned into flats, of course, but the ornate exterior will presumably remain. The outside is covered with reliefs, glazed tiles, moulded terracotta and polychromy, all to show off how great Doulton were at pottery (read a better description here, with photos). Nearby is the huge art deco Fire Brigade Headquarters on Albert Embankment, which has fine reliefs. A quick look at White Hart dock, across the road, concluded our tour. The dock was made around 1868, and used as an emergency water supply during the Second World War. Anyway, we were hungry by now and went to get lunch in a nearby cafe.
Really, I enjoy London's art and parks more than anything else in the city. I quite like the area around Newport Street – there's hardly any people or cars compared to the mayhem around Vauxhall.