The gallery is quiet. If it wasn’t for a distant voice in a darkened room and a perpetual rush of birds flying up into a grey sky on a black and white television ( it’s Art) it would be silent. People come here to look, even if they are not always sure what it is they are looking at or why it has been put there. There is a sense of secrecy here, and prohibition- look but don’t touch- and a sense of timelessness, of just being. It is a charged space, with heavy air, where people are mostly just hapless visitors who are not sure what to do. The power is with the art. You can say what you like about it, be what is considered wrong or right, but the work has been placed there and it doesn’t have to justify itself. It just is, because someone somewhere has said so. You are allowed to come in and look, that is all, and if you don’t like it you know where the door is.
A man in a smart hat and scarf is paying close attention to a wall full of brown paintings showing sheep and cows in fields. He moves back, assessing, refining, deciding, then walks out decisively.
A young girl wearing furry boots and a hoodie sorts out her nose and lips using her reflection in the glass of a black and white collaged photo.
A man with a long, long beard surveys a stone circle set out on the gallery floor by Richard Long. He has a Rohan anorak and dirty walking boots on his feet. He knows fell walking and he can understand why it is there and what inspired Long to make it. You can see that just by looking at his face.
A mother leads her son and daughter through a space mostly filled with modern conceptual pieces. They both look exactly like her. The little boy is interested in the strange pale blue loops which are sticking out of the wall but nobody is talking to him about it. His mother and sister are staring at a strange woollen image of a man who seems to be chopped in half which is stretched over a canvas and framed. They move on and he has a quick look at the birds who are still flying out onto the television screen, half pointing at it, before he runs on after them. I wish someone would talk to him.
Two young women carrying studded handbags and wearing fancy jackets point and laugh, sharing and showing each other what is in front of them. They stop in front of a beautiful, polished dark wood piece by Barbara Hepworth, a block of wood which has been transformed into a swirl of curves. They are not afraid to touch, making graceful flowing movements with their heads close together as they wave their hands. One runs her hand over the curve gently, tracing it with her fingers. “That’s what I like about it.”
The gallery attendant sits on his chair with his legs crossed, reading a book.
An elderly man in a smart anorak potters straight through the middle of the room, glancing from side to side without seeming to see anything, his hands clasped behind his back. A father with a head of tight white curls and his daughter follow him. They are not even looking.
A man sits alone in an empty, darkened space watching a grainy black and white film. It has an insistent, obsessive and bizarre commentary in which a self satisfied male voice makes up tall stories about the people who walk through a mundane street scene. It lasts 11 minutes and thirty six seconds.
A man sits on one of the gallery stools and rolls himself a fag with enormous concentration and skill.
A young teenager wanders into a room alone with a notebook. She stops in front of a very pretty little golden sculpture by Henry Moore, A Stringed Figure from 1939, and writes. It is the only thing that captures her attention- nothing else gets a glance- and I would have chosen it for her when she walked in.
Another young girl in a smartly buttoned coat and carefully knotted scarf stands bolt upright between two paintings with her back against the wall and taps at her smart phone.
A blonde girl and her Chinese boyfriend wander through, very much together and very pleased with each other. They are completely engaged in each other. They don’t need the Art.
A straight backed military type of gentleman walks round a room of paintings with his hands clasped behind his back. He inspects each painting in turn with a frown, as if he is interrogating them, and when he has gathered his information he marches out.
The hectoring, banal commentary which is leaching out from the darkened space is becoming annoying. I wish that I could walk up to the voice and tell it to shut up because I am not interested.
The man with the long beard and the young girl who was sorting out her lips and nose turn out to be father and daughter. It is obvious when you see them together. He is showing her the Richard Long stone circle, pointing and explaining, and she is is making her not interested face. There is a colourful, swirling painting behind the stones that she likes better. She makes a half hearted gesture towards it and then shakes her head silently. She can’t be bothered. He will only ask her why.
And so the day passes. The gallery objects wait for the darkness of closing time certain of their worth without caring what anyone says or thinks.