Wednesday, August 02, 2006

London Satire

Perhaps a quarter of the way round the Museum of London's excellent exhibition, Satirical London , 300 years of irreverent images, I became alarmed by the level of childish noise emanating from the other side of the wall. I don't expect museums to be silent but there has to be a certain level of decorum. Shouts, screams, laughter. Wrestling? The mother is joining in! I kept passing glances at the porters but they seemed quite happy watching me to ensure I didn't try sticking a Hogarth in my rucksack. “Why are you not doing something?” I wanted to yell.

Hogarth was probably the reason I was there in the first place. I have a slight obsession with him and there was no conceivable way an exhibition on satire and London would exclude the master himself. The most famous of his prints were there – Beer and Gin Lanes (along with others). These two were cleverly updated in 1965 by Ralph Steadman in Private Eye and more recently as Cocaine Lane by Martin Rowson (2001).

I think this is what struck me most about the exhibition. Although London has visibly changed over the years – you'd be an idiot to think it hasn't – there are still so many links to the past. People.

Progress may have changed life to the extent that someone dropping by from Georgian times would not recognise life at all from a first glance but on closer inspection so much of the human condition remains the same.

George Cruikshank's The Art of Walking the Streets of London (1818) illustrates this admirably. How to carry an umbrella – by poking everyone in the eye – and how to stop up the passage – by standing in the middle of a very busy street - are just two examples but I defy anyone to say they haven't experienced the very same on Oxford Street over one hundred and fifty years later.

I had to laugh at myself when I got to the end. Just past the Spitting Image Charles and Di slippers was a table with paper and crayons to create your own piece of London satire. Behind it a rack of Punch and Judy style puppets to create your own show. To scream, to shout and to wrestle. Just glad I'd managed to keep my mouth shut about the noise.

(It's free!).


coolbuddha said...

Gin Lane is an absolute classic. That poor baby falling into the canal/river! The cartoons of Steve Bell and Martin Rowson are sometimes shocking, but we forget that they are continuing a long tradition. We have a Rowson 'original' on display in the office. Don't think it's a copy as it looks hand drawn.

coolbuddha said...

I visited the museum yesterday. First time! Enjoyed the exhibition, and although there was much that was interesting, the other exhibits seemed a bit ad hoc. That said, I was pressed for time so it was all a bit rushed. Had to smile when a toddler tried walking into one of the 'shops' only to bump against the glass - he wasn't hurt (his dad laughed!).