diamond geezer

 Tuesday, May 17, 2016

While queueing for the latest avocado toastie pop-up, spare a thought for some of London's less well known attractions. They may struggle to draw attention to themselves amongst the surfeit of lifestyle experiences available in the capital today, but some of these attractions are (whisper it) quite good.

Take Tate Britain, for example. This may sound like a sugarcraft boutique, but is in fact a novel concept called an art gallery, a building whose walls are covered with pictures of things you can't buy. This particular outlet is in Pimlico, by no means as hip a location as Dalston or Peckham, but it is on the Victoria line, so we think property prices might pick up soon.

Don't be put off by the exterior. Tate Britain looks like a temple or something from a dullsville history lesson at school, but only part of the inside is that bad. Most of the rooms are breezy and spacious, indeed the building would make a great nightclub, and there's a map you can buy if you think you're in danger of getting lost.

Get your Uber to drop you off at the entrance by the river if you want to be wowed, because beneath the main rotunda there's a staircase to die for. This twists down into the basement with vibrant white treads edged in black, like a retro Viennetta, so if you can't snap that to win Instagram hearts from your best chums then you're doing it all wrong.

An oil company has kindly sponsored a lot of the rooms, bringing a strong brand presence to the Tate Britain experience. Their main contribution is a feature called 500 years of art, most of which was completed by dead people. There are no advertising slogans, which seems a lost opportunity, but a lot of the landscapes look like prime fracking territory.

The main purpose of Tate Britain appears to be to sell small white rectangles of card depicting colourful images. There are stacks of these in the shop, with a variety of designs, and all at a very reasonable price. These designs are then displayed elsewhere in the building, blown up much larger than full size, and this helps to see the intricate detail the illustrators have hidden away in every piece.

Some of the designs look quite rushed, especially the most recently completed, created by people we'd generally never heard of. But the older ones are a lot more lifelike, the selfies of their day, and some of the tresses and beards from the 16th century crowd look exactly like folk you might meet in Broadway Market today.

One of the wings is devoted to a bloke called Joe Turner, who apparently was a dab hand with a brush. Anywhere else you might expect to pay £18 to see a collection of his works, but amazingly here you can walk in off the street for free. If that's not your bag, rest assured there is an exclusive zone on the ground floor where £18 allows you to share floorspace with the other culture vultures, devouring pre-Raphaelite movers and shakers.

The Tate's core offering is pre-digital, so only a tiny number of the later exhibits actually move. But you can take as many photos as you like, and punters do, so feel free to share or even Periscope your personal journey as you walk around. Better still there's a bespoke app which brings the individual works to life, so perhaps you could simply download that and not bother coming to see the real thing at all.

If you love a party, and who doesn't, you'll enjoy the so-called dancing in the central gallery. Three performers have been drafted in to perform in tights until the end of October, if your limited attention span can cope with that. It'd be easier with a negroni in hand, and perhaps a bowl of ramen, but alas Tate Britain has yet to set up a streetfood area despite the obvious availability of space.

Hunt around the basement and you will find a cafe, thank god, because culture can be insufferable on an empty stomach. Splash out on a goats’ cheese quiche, or maybe a salad flecked with Pinney’s of Orford smoked salmon, washed down with the best of British craft beers or a hand-curated bottle of wine, before enjoying a bijou selection of freshly made cakes from the in-house pastry kitchen. Now that's art!

So give Tate Britain a try, assuming you're ever in the area. We think it has potential staying power on the London scene, not least as a useful meeting place for friends in damp weather. And remember, London's secret attractions are often more than worthy of our attention, if only we could be bothered to remember they exist.

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