I’ve never really seen the point of brunch: too late for breakfast, too early for lunch, it just makes a mess of the day. This view probably reflects how deeply I am steeped in the traditional work ethic and the timetable for living imposed by industrialisation, but it’s a hard one to shake off despite the many who don’t share it. I suppose brunch suits people who don’t need to divide their days into conventional sections comprising a.m. and p.m. with lunch in between, people whose working day is flexible or, in some cases, non-existent. And then there are the wannabees, those for whom the freedom to brunch is an aspiration but, for the time being, must remain a weekend treat. Still, I harbour the prejudice that brunch is, if not actually immoral, at best a guilt-ridden indulgence.
Despite this however, I did meet friends for brunch last Sunday (not at my instigation). The cafe was funky and full, packed with millennials and their young families competing to be heard over their own cacophony. A waiter took our order soon enough but I suppose we should have realised all was not well when three other waiters subsequently came to take it again: but one doesn’t like to make a fuss. Sure enough, however, our order had been lost. It was just as well that I had eaten breakfast at 07.30 as usual, because by the time our food finally arrived it was actually lunchtime. The fortuitous net result was no change to my dietary routine (apart from the fact that I would not choose to have Eggs Benedict for lunch).
The following Tuesday morning I met a like-minded friend at the Royal Academy where, after a fortifying cup of coffee, we ventured into the Abstract Expressionism show. The galleries were not busy (the brunchies having not yet arrived) and we were able to get up close to the paintings – not that it was necessary: because so many of the canvasses are very large, there was more benefit in being able to view them, unobstructed, from a distance. Moreover, the galleries themselves are on a grand scale which makes the venue well-suited to the works on display.
The entry fee includes a personal audio guide which is packed with art-historical information and curatorial interpretations of key works. But the real bonus is the inclusion of a few brief passages of 1950s jazz, such as John Coltrane’s Giant Steps. Their purpose is to illustrate the idea that while visual artists of the era were pushing the boundaries of technique and meaning, musicians were doing likewise. The effect of listening while viewing certainly enhanced my feeling for Abstract Impressionism: in fact the experience was so convincing that I would like to try it again, this time with iPod in pocket.
Choosing favourites from this body of work is impossible – no sooner do you decide on a Jackson Pollock than a Joan Mitchell catches your fancy – but personal preferences begin to emerge after a while, and some paintings are more “accessible” than others as far as the layman is concerned. I think, for example, of Rothko’s works. The curator informs us that the artist insisted his paintings be shown unframed, unglazed and hung low on the wall. This way he hoped to maximise the immersive experience for the viewer. It seemed to work well. Perhaps it would work even better while listening to Blue in Green from Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.
The show is a big one and there is only so much exquisite art one can take in the course of a morning. As we both began to tire we realised – no coincidence, surely – that it was lunchtime.