Thursday, 2 March 2017

Evelyn Waugh on Modern Art

[The following manuscript fragment was recently found in Evelyn Waugh's papers, perhaps predicting the future of Modern Art. It is believed to be part of an unpublished sequel to 'Vile Bodies'.] 

The party ended abruptly when Agatha Runcible led a congo-dancing crocodile of inebriated revellers out of the front door and down to the Houses Of Parliament to demand greater funding for The Arts. Suddenly finding themselves alone in the Serpentine Gallery, and feeling somewhat mollified about the embarrassing incident involving Ginger's whiskers, Nina decided to set a good example by tidying up while Adam searched fruitlessly for the caretaker. Procuring an apron and a dust-pan and brush from a cupboard marked 'Private', she flitted about the room humming the same tune they had danced to at the Cafe Rouge several hours earlier.

"My god, Nina, what are you doing?" cried Adam when he returned to the room.

"Tidying-up. I've always wanted to. Do you like my apron?"

"No, it makes you look like a Bolshevik. But the point is, darling, that you've rather 'tidied up' all of the new exhibits." Adam marched across to the radiator, gesturing. "Don't you remember 'Tea Bags Drying'?" He pointed to a section of freshly-swept floor. "Or ''The Despondent Desolation Of A Scrunched Up Cigarette Box?'" Adam then walked across the room to a glass table now gleaming with polish. "And what about the 'Dust: I Was Here' exhibit? It was heralded as the dawning of a new epoch in modern realism by The Daily Beast and now you've swept it up."

Nina blushed. "Oh dear, I don't suppose that's a terribly good thing, is it? In fact, I suppose, if anything, it might even be a rather bad thing...."

A flash of inspiration suddenly glittered in Adam's eyes. He snapped his fingers. "I know, we can make some new ones. Where did you put the rubbish?"

As Adam busied himself creating a pyramid of cigarette ash surmounted by a spire of twisted cigarette stubs on the glass table, Nina draped some soiled handkerchiefs over the back of a Bauhaus chair which she had procured from another room.

Unfortunately it had proved completely impossible to retrieve the tea-bags for they had burst open into a squelchy mulch at the bottom of the litter bin. In their place on the radiator she spelled out the word 'Anomaly' with broken match-sticks.

"Why 'anomaly'?" asked Adam.

"Because I didn't have enough matches to spell 'anonymous'."

Ten minutes later Adam was gazing back into the room surveying their handiwork, his hand poised over the light switch. "I do hope we won't get into trouble," he said. "Artists spend several years learning how to become artists. I can't help but feel slightly guilty."

"Oh, don't be such a bore," replied Nina, tugging his sleeve. "I want to go home. Besides, I've got such a pain."

Adam frowned. "But you're still wearing the apron."

Nina attached a fake twirly moustache to her upper lip and giggled. "It's my disguise, silly. In case we get stopped by a policeman."

But they needn't have worried. When the Director of the gallery turned up the next morning with the Minister Of Arts And Culture and last week's Prime Minister for an informal viewing of the critically-applauded new show that everyone was talking about, he stood open-mouthed on the thresh-hold, shocked surprise gradually giving way to enraptured awe.

"Truly we are at the Dawn Of A New Age!" he cried, clapping his hands together in delight. He turned round to stare at his bemused guests. "Please tell me you can see it?"

The Minister For Arts And Culture had until very recently had been an assistant manager at a small museum dedicated to rural agriculture in a Devon backwater. In truth his sudden and unexpected appointment to high office had more to do with an administrative faux-pas than his knowledge of Art, which was, if anything, less than slight. His name was Brown, and like many Browns, people were often mixing him up. However, what Brown lacked in knowledge he more than compensated for in evasive diplomacy (which was why he was confidently predicted To Go Far).

"Of course, Sir Basil. It's very impressive."

Last week's Prime Minister merely grumbled something unintelligible and non-commital. He had missed breakfast because his boiler had packed-in, and not being Prime Minister any more meant that he had to pay for the repair himself. Indeed, he had been volubly fermenting upon the outrageous cost of plumbing in the metropolis when Sir Basil's chauffuer had called for him.

The Director of The Serpentine walked excitedly into the room to explain the Concept to his prestigious visitors, one hand tucked into his waistcoat pocket, the other gesturing authoritatively.

"It would appear that the artists returned to the Gallery last night to create new pieces of contemporary art," he informed them. "How truly innovative! Art as a dynamic state of conscious realism, in fact. See here how they ruthlessly castigate Architecture Run Riot, with their subtle construction of ash and tobacco? And there, the draped linen, soiled perhaps with the stain of Lost Humanity?"

Spinning on his heels - heels that last week's Prime Minister thought indecently high for any Englishman to wear in public - he turned to face his guests.

"And we three - what, mere functionary mortals? - we and we alone have been granted the first privileged glimpse into the future of modern realism! Is it not exciting? Does it not thrill you to the very core of your being?"

Last week's Prime Minister looked doubtful but he had high hopes of Sir Basil suggesting an early lunch. Glancing uncomfortably at his companion, he replied cautiously. "Of course, Sir Basil. It's very impressive."

The new Minister for Arts And Culture was left temporarily speechless. After a moment he spoke. 

"I can only echo that," he said miserably.

Which of course was true.

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