I went to have another look at the Alexander Calder mobiles today. The show is on at Tate Modern and ends on Sunday. I went once before, in early February, on a day when if I hadn't already got a ticket for a lunchtime concert at LSO St Lukes I wouldn't have gone to London because I had a cold, and while I loved the mobiles and the early wire work sculptures of acrobats, portrait heads and Hercules wrestling the lion, I though I would have enjoyed them more if I had not had a headache and been feeling moderately ill. I kept hoping to go back, but the moment never arose until today.
The mobiles are simply wonderful. I first saw a couple in a show at the RA around seven or eight years ago, along with a fabulous, stick-like slinking Giacometti dog. It was my first encounter with the mobile as fine art. By the time I was growing up mobiles had been relegated to cosy decorations for the bedrooms of the under fives, while the RA shop was selling some extraordinarily bad Calder rip offs that utterly failed to capture the grace of the originals. I was left wanting more Calder, and finally the Tate provided it. There was enough air movement in the galleries today to sent them very slowly circling one way, before reaching their sticking point and swinging almost imperceptibly back.
The great thing about making a second trip to an exhibition is that you can bypass the rooms you don't like so much, having dutifully looked at everything once, and focus purely on the works that stuck in your mind, in this case the early 1920s wire sculptures and the mobiles, mostly from the 1930s. I still can't decide which I like best, the ones made with pure circles or the more organic ones with leaf and amoeba shaped weights, the plain black or those with flashes of bright colour.
From the Tate I went to the RHS spring Plant Extravaganza featuring the London Orchid Show at Vincent Square. I'm not sure the spring show is such an extravaganza as perhaps it once was. I don't go to the London shows at all regularly, but it seemed to me that apart from the orchids there were not so many nurseries as there used to be, and the average display was smaller. It wasn't overly crowded either, which of course makes it nicer to walk around but does not bode so well for the long term. Still, there were some nice spring flowers, and I was able to buy a couple of plants from Fibrex Nuerseries for the conservatory which I had previously been eyeing up on their website, thus saving the delivery cost and keeping me from the temptation of ordering a couple more while I was at it to amortise the delivery charge over a larger order.
The orchid show had its own hall, and was very colourful and great fun. I had written down the names of my existing orchids in the conservatory, and a helpful man from the Lee Valley orchid society was able to offer a theory as to why one of my Dendrobium looks fat and healthy while the other, given identical growing conditions, appears at death's door. I bought another Calanthe from the same firm that sold me my first plant, since the original seems very happy in its pot. Imagine a fine leaved hosta with spikes of small orchid shaped flowers in subtle shades of yellow and white and you have a Calanthe. The chap I spoke to on the stall was not the owner, and was not one of life's natural salesmen, since he was busily telling people how he found the smell of the flowers reminded him of Savlon, and how customers who had not previously detected the resemblance started to notice it after he had pointed it out to them. I thought my plant smelt delicious, and shall thrust any thoughts of Savlon from my mind if it flowers again this year.
Then I managed to get all three plants home on the Circle line and the train without breaking either of the two flower spikes on the Calanathe, or the stems of the Begonia fuchsoides. The orchid salesman hadn't fancied my chances with the Calanthe spikes, telling me how he bought some last year and the flowering stems were all broken during his tube journey home, while the begonia had the air of one of those plants that bits might fall off if you looked at it. My technique for carrying plants on public transport is to hold them in front of me and as high and close to my body as my arms can bear. Anything swinging in a plastic bag at knee level is fair game to fellow travellers, but most people will try to keep out of the space immediately in front of your chest if you are holding something clearly fragile. Avoiding the height of the rush hour is obviously a good idea. Conveying a vaguely protective air that if anybody breaks your plants you might bite them probably helps as well.