It’s been something of a rule for me. Whenever I’m in a city I’ve never been to before, I always visit a modern art gallery. There are millions of stories in that. Some are fascinating (I once spent forty minutes in a Dublin lecture hall, alone, watching a bizarre but strangely magnetic video of somebody’s hand covering a bowl of fruit with white paint), most are pathetic (Duke of Wellington place in Glasgow).
But somehow – it is always worth it. Modern art galleries are like a secret key to a fascinating world that does not exist.
I think it all started years ago, in Gateshead. Not a city you would normally put on your itinerary. I just happen to know it better than almost any other place in the UK, and am probably going there again this summer. If you ever visit Gateshead or Newcastle, don’t go past Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. For that is one hell of a place. Last time I was there – they had three installations: an old Russian hut (that’s right: an old Russian hut), a room full of speakers creating a sound effect (somewhat intriguing) and a large hall covered with small stones (fuck you). And that’s a huge expensive building overlooking Tyne.
But the very first time I was there, in 2006 or thereabouts, Baltic spoke to me. Hundreds of installations with varying degrees of pretentious insanity. A tunnel built with TV sets you should crawl through, a plate full of fruits and vegetables that go rotten in front of your very eyes. God knows what else.
And most importantly: the best thing I have ever seen in a modern art gallery. A man tap-dancing next to a dead body. On a small screen. On and on and on. I must have stood there for twenty minutes, unable to look away. That loop was more engrossing than a film by David Lynch. The image is forever stuck in my brain, and in whatever it is that I have ever done – I’ve always remained true to what I saw that day. Someone captured the essence of modern art there, in a way that I could almost understand.