On Monday I worked as a waitress for “the” catering company in London. Think Royal Wedding, Simon Cowell’s 50th, Elton John, Diamond Jubilee. Precisely. But on Monday night at Tate Modern I wasn’t playing slave to celebrities of that nature. Yes, there were flashing lights, dubious VIPs, Strawberry Bellinis and canapés galore; but the clientele at this event leaned towards the “I sewed on my own sleeves” sort of people, rather than head-to-toe Valentino. We’re talking fanboys – the artsy fanboys of three generations. “Is this Champagne?” “No sir, it’s cava”. The sort of people who turn their noses up at cava because either they’re American, or they think they’re entitled to the best sparkling wine around. Or maybe because they realised that cava doesn’t come with a capital C. The sort of people who couldn’t taste the difference between cava and Champagne but like to think they have superior taste buds. The sort of drivers you can’t serve orange squash to because they require their soft-drink to contain Elderflower and real raspberries. I’m starting to think that these ‘connoisseurs’ of fine art weren’t coming for the free beverages but rather for an excuse to flaunt their artistic license.
Before the night had even started I had a spot of beginner’s luck; I smashed a picture frame. Thank God it wasn’t a Picasso original is all I’m saying. It was merely a certificate congratulating the gallery on their generous contribution to a hospice. I had taken an innocent step backwards to let someone walk past and boom; I picked up the picture frame from the floor to find that its latest addition was none other than a mighty diagonal crack down the centre. As tempting as it was to quickly pick it up and put it back on the wall like nothing had happened, this was actually the second time it had fallen off and people were beginning to stare. It was definitely a pity stare; the sort of stare people give you when they’re just grateful they’re not in your shoes. The girl beside me tried to lighten the mood with “don’t worry, it was probably only £5 from IKEA”, but I spent the next 30 seconds concentrating on not turning the colour of a prune.
Apart from my faux-pas with the picture frame and the “disappointing” liquor selection (they had cava laced with a strawberry crème de frais for Pete’s sake), the night materialised rather splendidly. I was expecting ball gowns and top hats but it was certainly an evening of jeans and patchwork. The evening more importantly marked the opening of the oil tanks at Tate Modern. Originally I thought they just said “tanks” and I had this vision of dark green army tanks being driven through Tate Modern. Not quite. Turns out these are actually former oil tanks and they’re the start of an extension currently happening at the famous art gallery. The tanks were decommissioned in 1981 and have now been converted by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron to create a space for “art in action”. The tanks used to carry over one million tons of oil but will now be host to a variety of art performances, experimental films and giant installations. The opening of the tanks marks the first exhibition space in a major museum permanently dedicated to these criteria – how exclusive of them!
Apart from standing up for five hours holding ten tons (I exaggerate slightly) worth of cava for the 1000 or so guests whilst letting my feet blister themselves to shreds, almost die of hunger pains and dehydration; I enjoyed myself. Or shall I say I learnt how to pretend I was having the time of my life? The music being played was the sort of music people get “high” to; eerie and echoic. The sort of place where you could imagine meeting ladies snorting cocaine in the toilets and every other person you bump into wants to know where the cigarette balcony is located. I’m not trying to give the gallery a bad name – just alluding to the fact that the music created a certain “ambience”, not helped by the deep blue lighting and overhead spotlights. Men and women tilted their glasses horizontally when asking for a top up because they thought it was helping you. Instead, the bottle chinks the glass and you’ve committed waitress felony. The art of “topping up” is to do so with zilch contact, and I mean nada.
But amongst the smashed glasses, floor mops, faux glamour and popsicle sticks were the picturesque pillars belonging to London’s finest gallery. I almost expected to see a woman’s high heel propped up behind one as she embraced her lover against it, hiding her face behind an oversized wine glass – a Jane Austen contemporary in the making.
By the end of the evening, while I secretly gorged on leftover stale bagels and what tasted like luke-warm bath water, I couldn’t help but wonder for a moment what my life would be like on the other end of this glamorous charade.
Watch this space.