ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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The Independent Culture
SUNDAY, 2pm, and I am at the Julian Opie exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. It's been open since 10am. In a huge white room (about 100ft by 40) are three small concrete sculptures (mini spaghetti junctions), and 12 almost identical paintings of a receding road - grey tarmac, white lines and green verges, topped off by a blue sky - in simple block colours, like in the Highway Code. In each painting the curve of the road is different and the white lines are different thicknesses to give the illusion of movement. In case your imagination isn't up to this, two video screens are set up with exactly the same road scene - but the image really is moving. On the fourth wall are some smaller road pictures at night: headlights mainly.

There are three people in this room: a young bespectacled man in a green anorak, a tall black gallery attendant in a navy blazer, and me. It is deathly quiet. We move along. There are more people in the second room, roughly the same size as the first: eight, plus me and the anorak. More sculptures, too, including two opaque-glass showcases, what looks like a large white multiple-bookshelf and a pile of cardboard boxes painted to look like suitcases. It's silent, and it's cold. Upstairs, two young girls are staring out of a window, talking. They move away. I look out on to a patio where a group of primary-coloured blocks is set out, topped with little puddles of rainwater. At another window a 30ish man is rather charmingly explaining the various shades to his little boy, who looks about five. 'You can see all those greys - lots of them. There's grey concrete and a grey sky and the water is muddy grey . . .' He adds, as if to himself, 'Architecturally it's a disaster of course.'

There are four more people up here. All of us, by now seeing our isolation - our mistake - are eyeing each other with doleful suspicion. It's the feeling you get in the video shop on a Sunday afternoon: am I a saddie, a reject? In the last room are white screens with primary-coloured panels and a white-framed construction like a well-designed bus shelter. It's all so soulless. I like to have a visceral reaction to art.

I can't have passed 20 people in the whole show. We have paid pounds 5 to see it, together with Roger Hilton's pictures. But how much did it cost to put on?

I go for a cup of coffee to the Festival Hall. You don't have to pay here, of course, but the show of Sebastiao Salgado's photographs is packed; all heads and shoulders. A man says urgently, striding past me with his friend, 'I really wanted to come and look at this bloke's pictures, see what they're really like . . . ' It's noisy and hot. The crowd is three-or-four-deep in front of every picture. And still we take photography less seriously than the other visual arts. Pity the Hayward turned Salgado down.

READERS' solutions to the two mysteries in the plot of The Piano (C&W, last week) will appear next Sunday. If you have a theory, please let me have it by Tuesday (fax 071-956 1469).