I went to a fabulously debauched dinner party in London the other night. Actually it would be better called a banquet. There were luscious oysters, mussels, herrings, a curled pike dressed with cucumber, a beast of a turkey, a side of lamb, a hog’s head, roast beef, melon, cranberries, oranges, pineapples, strawberries, fruit tarts, creamy trifles, giant bunches of black grapes and loads of fine wines and fizz. What a sight, what indulgence! What hedonistic fun we all had!
In fact this banquet was the brilliant work of the British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, who has created a tableau of the Last Supper transposed into a frenzied, Bacchanalian party. POP! is the title. Here, gluttony rules as headless guests dressed in vividly patterned West African prints join in the revelry with the odd lascivious moment, and Jesus morphs into Bacchus, the Roman god of wine.
It is the perfect metaphor for our times, an ambitious reflection in meticulously painted fibre-glass of the excesses of consumption, money and, as they say, How to Spend It (a mag which I confess to having contributed to in the past). As the Eurozone descends into further chaos, with wealthy Russians revealed as tucking away their ill-gotten gains in Cypriot banks, we must wonder if this isn’t the endgame. Crisis follows crisis, with seemingly no solution and certainly nobody able to swing it in a different direction.
So Yinka Shonibare I take my metaphorical hat off to you for such an entrancing, beautifully observed spectacle of our descent into Dionysian madness. The bottles have tipped over, as have the vases, the food is carelessly half devoured, an orange peel unfurls gracefully over the damask table edge and a splodge of scarlet fruity sauce makes a huge and bloody stain. What’s left?
The death throes of capitalism or what? This is the visual equivalent of Tom Wolfe’s 1987 classic, The Bonfire of the Vanities, a quarter of a century later. And as if that weren’t enough, in a back gallery little male figures with balloon heads roll around in inebriated abandon, are suspended from the wall or somersault, each clutching a bottle of fizz, his head inscribed with the name of a recent financial crisis. Lest we forget. Here’s the Lehman Brothers man.
Ironically and predictably, outside the gallery in the heart of London’s Mayfair is parked a glossy line-up of Mercs and Maseratis, mainly doomsday black.
Yinka Shonibare’s exhibition is at the Stephen Friedman Gallery, 25-28 Old Burlington St, London W1. Don’t miss it, it ends on April 20. www.yinkashonibarembe.com