February is my least favourite month. I DO honour St Valentine and my beau will likely receive a card and a small gift (OK so admittedly I do fall occasionally for a little bit of commercialised schmaltz) but the sight of Easter eggs, bunnies and baskets proliferating in the shops fills me with barely-concealable irritation (akin to my thoughts on Christmas decorations going on sale in July) but really, February in London is somewhat dismal. Aside from the retail horror aforementioned, the grey fills me with gloom and frankly if I could live somewhere else from January to March I would.
However, had this dream been realised, I should be jetting back to Blighty about now in anticipation of a new blockbuster exhibition opening at Tate. Lichtenstein: A Retrospective could not have been scheduled more perfectly to bring welcome joy to a soupy London day.
I believe my first encounter with the artist’s work (sadly never the artist, he died in 1997) was I think at the age of 11 when I visited POP ART at the Royal Academy on a school trip. If memory serves, they had a Lichtenstein or two in the show, but sadly I can’t remember which one(s) OR indeed if I wanted to see one so much that I dreamt it and it became a memory… research into this matter will ensue I promise… but whatever moment in time I first beheld the large (huge when you’re 11) canvas, screaming with energy and primary colours all brought to order by the strong black lines and seemingly countless rows of seemingly countless dots endlessly repeating… it was a moment of awe and early appreciation for this body of work which has become among the most recognisable in all modern art. I am by no means an art historian, but the repeating dots theme has put me in mind of Kusama and her dotty takeover of Louis Vuitton in 2012.
Those wishing to own a tiny but very attractive piece from the artist’s own hand need only look to Christie’s sale in London on the 13th February… a really lovely artist’s study is coming to the market estimate £700,000-£1m.
Lichtenstein: A Retrospective opens in London on 21st February.
Very few brands could pull off such an engaging and creative marketing coup. Hermes, the French luxury house known the world over for its exquisite goods nestled in orange boxes has curated a fabulous exhibition behind the Royal Academy in Piccadilly.
Ascending the staircase, past a customised Citroen CV motor car, one’s eye is drawn up to a classical Greek marble statue with a white Kelly bag hung cheekily and irreverently over her arm. Once inside, the House takes you on a journey through its long history, with vintage pieces from their archive lending weight and provenance to the assertion which is clearly being made; we are so successful because our products are the very best. The noteworthy clientele is highlighted by such items as a sporran and a document case commissioned and owned by Edward VIII, and a driving hat worn by his consort Wallis Simpson. Early in the exhibition one enters a room in which two master craftspeople from the factory sit and make the individual elements of one of the iconic house bags, working leather with heated tools and making the difficult task look like simplicity itself.
The absolute highlight for me is a light installation, created around a desk, upon which sit items familiar to all…. a diary, clock, photograph frame, pencil case. The light plays upon the desk, projecting writing onto the diary as if written by an invisible hand, drawing swirls and motifs and dancing. The light highlights individual objects in turn, bringing them to life and reminding the viewer that there is beauty in everyday objects and magic in those of such exceptional and exquisite quality. This really highlights for me the idea of buying little but buying well – the diary that lasts for decades of daily use, or the pencil case you could use for a lifetime and then gift to an artistic child to be used for another lifetime.
Hermes is powerful proof if such were needed of the value of craftsmanship and quality. Christies for example is holding a sale entitled Elegance; Handbags on 30th May in South Kensington, a sale almost exclusively of Hermes bags from the 1950s to the present day. Hermes is notoriously expensive, but how many luxury items can be resold in this way after a lifetime of enjoyment and use? That is surely the very definition of value for money.
After visiting the exhibition I made a beeline for the bar at Cecconi’s just across the street from Burlington House, where one can take in the buzz of Mayfair’s dealmakers, fashion shoppers and ladies-who-lunch over a glass of prosecco. The spring salad of quails’ eggs, artichokes and salmon with some braised octopus on the side was the perfect accompaniment to a relaxed perusal of the latest Hermes house magazine and a luxury daydream. The bread should come with a warning; the selection of three different types is so delicious I ate the entire basket and dish of olive oil without shame. Heaven.