London’s Least-Known Major Art Gallery
It used to be called the Museum of Mankind, and featuring everything from Aztec crystal skulls (yes, like the one in the Indiana Jones movie) to an entire African village. But nobody ever went there. Sometimes I went to their Arab souk, which was filled with the smell of spices, just to eat my lunch. Then, ten years ago, the museum finally lost its funding and was decommissioned. The collection was shunted over to the British Museum, where it simply disappeared within the arrangements of other ethnic artifacts.
Now the entire building is a gallery called the Haunch Of Venison. And it’s still virtually empty. That’s a shame, because it’s a spectacular space. The astonishing thing is that it’s just a few paces from Piccadilly, but you have to duck up a backstreet to find it (It’s beside the rear of the Royal Academy School, near Bond Street.) The gallery does itself no favours by always looking closed, but it’s not, and it’s free. Just go up the steps and try the doors.
At the moment it’s running installations by the DJ James Lavelle, and an exhibition of Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos, a world of embroidery and crochet, sex and simulacra. The brochure says ‘Finding her inspiration in the popular imagination and examining various themes of daily life, Vasconcelos focuses on the politics of gender, national identity and class’ – you know, like they all do. But it’s worth sticking your head around the door and checking out. There’s a lacework grand piano that’s sitting in a room even grander, and I liked the shiny ceramic howling wolf covered in lace.