Thursday, 22 January 2009

Lunchtime at the Design Museum

Because I'm lucky enough to work in More London, I was invited to take part in a curator's tour of the current exhibition at the Design Museum, a show of Alan Aldridge's work called The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes.

So, on a rainy Thursday, I stopped for a proper lunch break with a couple of mates from the office, and wandered through grey More London to the Design Museum.

The exhibition was fantastic. A riot of loud, colourful, sensual, gorgeous pictures. It didn't need a lot of thought; the woman showing us round was great in her simple story-telling descriptions, giving just enough information without overloading us. A revelation.

Alan Aldridge was responsible for some pretty cool book covers while he worked with Penguin. He was also the guy behind this picture for Chelsea Girls, which I think is bloody brilliant. In the second room of this exhibition, you move through to all his illustrations for, and of, The Beatles. Here, beautiful colours, remarkable lines and witty representations of them, their lyrics, and basically, the era all jostle for attention in a room with pictures covering the walls, the ceiling and the floor.

Two more rooms are dedicated to his funky, 70s anthropomorphic designs for children's books like The Butterfly Ball and The Grasshopper's Feast. Looking at them, I felt I was seeing the first ever designs for children's books; as if nothing came before, and everything after was different. I could see what The Faraway Tree was inspired by; where James and the Giant Peach and The BFG came from.

Alan Aldridge's later designs for bands, people like Elton John, and brands like The Hard Rock Cafe seemed so much less exciting than the work we saw in the earlier rooms. It's hard to say if this is the way you feel about any exhibition when you reach the final room, when the earlier spaces have been so exciting...

But I actually think it's because he's a man of his time, really. Alan Aldridge's art from the 60s and 70s was so lovely, beautiful, shocking, trippy, exciting and arresting, because that was his time. Now he's making work in today's world, and I don't think it's his time anymore.

I was curious as to why we don't see the best of his 60s stuff on every student's room in every hall of residence in every university town. The pictures, I think, have that kind of quality. They'd fit perfectly alongside a shot of The Beatles crossing Abbey Road, and a Dali rose(!). I asked the lovely curator (must find out her name), and she said it wasn't really about copyright or ownership; and in fact, she thought Alan would be happy if this were the case!

In short: a really refreshing, colourful, gently informative way to spend a gloomy weekday lunchtime. Here's hoping the More London crew organise some more things for us to do.

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