Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Museum of Everything: Peter Blake, Walter Potter et al

With no press advertisements, very few reviews (though Time Out have been championing it for weeks), a vague website and an obscure location (round the back of Chalk Farm public library), entering the Museum of Everything comes across as an overwhelming surprise; it surely must be the most bizarre show currently in London.

The Museum of Everything's Exhibition #3 (open until Christmas, Wednesdays to Sundays, and free) features a huge selection of strange paraphernalia from curator Sir Peter Blake's extraordinary studio, most of which has never been shown before. What's revealed is a sort of alternative history of British folk-art, including circus freaks, Punch and Judy shows, tacky seaside shell souvenirs, vintage fairground attractions, and, most exciting of all, his collection of outsider art, including rooms devoted to outsider artists such as Walter Potter, Harry Varnun, Arthur Windley and Ted Willcox, who created tapestries from pin-up magazines in the 1950s.

Walter Potter's Museum of Curiosity is arguably the highlight of the show; I have vague memories of seeing it as a boy when it was shown at Jamaica Inn in Cornwall but since 2003 the collection was split up and sold at auction (Peter Blake and Damien Hirst, unsurprisingly, bought some pieces). Potter was a Victorian taxidermist who created somewhat macabre dioramas with stuffed animals including tableaus of nursery rhymes such as the glorious Burial of Cock Robin and The House that Jack Built, as well as scenes of a kitten's tea party and wedding, squirrel's fencing and boxing, and playing cards whilst smoking, rabbits in a school and rats drinking in a bar. There's also a two-headed sheep.

The exhibition is definitely worth a visit (or two) ; it's a veritable magical mystery tour from the old pop artist godfather. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed. The penalty is either £1000, or death, depending on which sign you read.

Previously: Animal furniture; Bedlam: The art of madness; Pop goes the car boot sale

++Famous Person Sightings++
On emerging from Chalk Farm tube (our first venture into North London for some time) I joked to Mel to keep an eye out for famous North Londoner's like, er, Suggs from Madness or, er, Nick Hornby. Five minutes later we saw Alan Bennett entering a dry cleaners to get his shirts starched, followed promptly by that annoying guy from Green Wing.

Another recent sighting was a favourite writer of mine, Geoff Dyer. Although we did actually pay to see him at Bookslam (so it wasn't a random sighting), we did see him entering the building (which sort of counts; well, it felt random for a second – we were drinking in the bar and just happened to see a semi-famous writer. Then we remembered). I also plucked up the courage, after two pints and two painful kicks from Chris (shin, ankle) to give him a copy of my book.

Bookslam is located on Powis Square, where one of my favourite films, Performance, with Mick Jagger and James Fox ('I am a bullet!'), was shot back in 1968.

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