As you enter the exhibition Picasso: Challenging the Past (at the National Gallery until June 7), you’re confronted with a sign declaring: “LECTURING IS NOT PERMITTED IN THE EXHIBITION”.
Which raises a number of questions, not least the precise definition of lecturing. Obviously you don’t want your viewing disturbed by 47 wannabe Schamas, what exactly is the distinction between that and the sort of low-level explicatory natter that two friends might share when looking at a painting? While it’s deeply annoying to get an unsolicited running commentary during a film or play, a certain level of chat is tolerable in the otherwise silent gallery.
Although of course, it’s not silent: the ambient noise of the modern gallery is the fractured buzz leaking from those bloody headphones, all slightly out of sync with each other, as if a Tube carriage-full of commuters had all started the same track on their iPods at two-second intervals. To be honest, I’d rather have a wannabe Schama, even at the risk of provoking a scene like this:
As it was, the main distraction from the buzz (apart from the exhibition itself, of course, which is quite good, but a bit short for 12 quid) was the sight of a lady sitting and sketching in front of ‘Women of Algiers (After Delacroix)’, apparently unfazed by all the people standing in her way. Only by looking over her shoulder did I realise that she was drawing the people, not the painting.