WITH TWO blockbuster exhibitions coming to an end next month, it’s a good time to visit London, particularly if life is regulated by school terms. Or so I thought, because adding up the cost of a day trip makes me wonder.

But first the art. The Hayward Gallery is right by Waterloo and first port of call. It’s also closing for refurbishment after the current show, ‘Carsten Höller: Decision’ ends, and the last chance to appreciate the brutalist interior, for a while at least.

If it reopens as a funfair I won’t be surprised, as this is what this show is. There’s no wavy mirrors or bearded lady; more’s the pity, as the exhibits are pared-down versions of funfair entertainment.

Höller’s famous (Tate Modern) helter-skelter gets a reprieve, but that’s as exciting as it gets. There’s also a kind of ‘ghost train’, except there’s no train and no ghosts. It’s just dark. Also, the slowest-ever swing ride, where health and safety has decreed visitors shall wear a body harness. They look embarrassed as they rotate, resembling airlifted pigs.

Other attractions play havoc inside your head, and may cause migraines. A strobe; upside-down glasses; and mid-bogglingly low-quality film viewed on high-tech headsets. I was reminded of Lapland New Forest, the Christmas theme park we enjoyed reading about a few years ago.

Thankfully just down the giver at Tate Modern, Agnes Martin is showing. This is my kind of abstract art: straight lines, limited palette, surfaces that shimmer. Many artists have devoted time to the grid, but Martin’s devotion is almost obsessional. Occasionally she breaks out from the mould: a triangle here, a polygon there, but every deviation fails for me. While Martin may be a bit minimal for many, she is a good antidote Höller's frivolousness.

At the National Gallery is ‘Soundscapes: Listening to Paintings’, of particular interest to me. The sound creators were diverse, and performed true to type. The sound recordist gives us birdsong; the film composer borrows from Poulenc/Ravel for Cezanne; the fine artists show how clever they are; and the composer Nico Muhly creates moving and evocative music. It is young Jamie xx (sic) who has best fulfilled the task of enhancing one’s experience of painting.

Looking at art should provide an inexpensive day out, but with a cheap day return at £44.60 that’s not possible. Entry charges were £34.40, lunch at the Tate £10 and a modest tapas supper £25. That’s about £115 if you like your own company, or £230 for two. I hope the editor doesn’t scrutinise my expenses sheet too closely.

‘Soundscapes’ and ‘Decision’ end on September 6. Agnes Martin continues until October.


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