Last thursday night I did something I have not done for a while; visit a London gallery. There was an exhibition on about the prostitution and voyeurism of Amsterdam’s red light district. Honestly, I hadn’t intended the visit.
I was due to meet an interviewee in Trafalgar Square but the wide open space of the square allowed a freezing breeze to sweep through it. My date was late and so I tried to keep myself entertained by watching the boring set up for the annual switching on of the lights on the Norwegian Christmas tree.
Eventually, I had to get out of the cold and luckily the National Gallery, next door to the square, was open.
Normally, when I visit any capital city I head straight for its galleries and museums (if there is no major sporting fixture on), the most impressive to me of which is Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. But in London I have lost this art recently.
So I spent an intriguing twenty minutes thawing out while wandering around The Hoerengracht (Whores Canal) Exhibition. It is fashioned on Amsterdam’s Red Light District, known as the Herengracht, or Gentleman’s Canal. Adding the “o” gives you Whores Canal.
The Hoerengracht recreates the windows and doorways of Amsterdam with mannequins crafted into prostitutes enticing you to look into the room and study more closely the scattered furniture of a prostitute’s life.
The exhibition was created by American artists Ed Kienholz (1927-1994) and Nancy Reddin Keinholz (born 1943). You get a true sense of taking an evening stroll passed Amsterdam’s windows containing semi-naked women. Unlike the reticence of being in Amsterdam for real, in the National Gallery everyone gets as close up as they can to look into the prostitute’s private cubicle. What is slightly bemusing about the exhibition are the biscuit boxes placed around over each mannequin’s face.
Apparently, the tins denote a separatation of mind and body, which allows the woman to ply her trade.
The seedy streets were a fun diversion from the wholesome carol service taking place in Trafalgar Square. Next to the The Hoerengracht are paintings of interesting scenes from 17th century Holland around the theme of “love for sale”.
The Hoerengracht idea has influenced the likes of the Chapman Brothers, Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst. Tracy Emin’s My Bed is an obvious work that carries on this theme of voyeurism.
The Hoerengracht runs until 21st February 2010 at the National Gallery. Admission free.