How do you appreciate art for Archer's sake?

The Campbell's soup tins were quintessential Warhol, albeit less suited to my curtains
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
ROSES I know about; the question is, would a tin of Campbell's soup by any other name but Andy Warhol look out of place on my sitting- room wall? At least I'd be able to see it. That, in fact is the only reason why I accepted an invitation to a charity evening at a Mayfair art gallery last Wednesday night, showing Jeffrey Archer's famous collection of Andy Warhols.

I know my limitations. Petit-point at the V&A, and 16th-century Mogul miniatures at the Queen's Gallery, are just two of the exciting exhibitions I have passed up recently. My sister-in-law, who has been to more art galleries than I have had hot dinners, was particularly taken with the Moguls. "I'm sure you'd be able to see them with a magnifying-glass," she insisted. "There's this wonderful painting of the Emperor Jehangir sitting on an elephant where you just wouldn't believe the detail - his buttons, his eyelashes, his beauty spot. Do you know, it even had little piles of dung behind the elephant, with tiny flies buzzing around them?"

"How big is the whole picture?" I ask. "Oh, about the size of a postage stamp," said Morven.

Warhol is different. For a start he paints big, and besides, you've seen all those images of Mickey Mouse and Marilyn Monroe so many times, you know where you are. "Did you especially choose to sponsor Fight for Sight because people with rotten eyesight could see the pictures," I asked Jeffrey Archer, as he mingled importantly with the canape-nibbling guests.

I should, at this point, tell you something about the venue. The Peter Gwyther Gallery in Bruton Street is elegant, minimalist and more fraught with feng shui than the Forbidden City itself. As for the canapes - if you'd hung them on the wall next to Mickey and Marilyn, they wouldn't have looked out of place. Bright pink tuna on chlorophyll-green yam chunks; black fungi on canary cornbread; served by supercilious youths with buttons, eyelashes and beauty spots.

So, anyway, there I am wishing that my shoes were less scuffed and my hair more soigne, like everyone else's, asking Lord Archer about Fight for Sight. He replied loftily - or at least as loftily as a very small man can reply - that he supported so many charities (he went to at least four charity functions every week, sometimes three on the same night) that he couldn't really tell me anything.

From here, he was going straight on to a charity auction for cancer relief - or was it for children's hospitals? No, that one was yesterday. He knew he'd done something for Moorfields Hospital recently, another auction maybe, but he really couldn't remember. That was the trouble with being involved with so much charity work. I wonder whether the poor man remembers he is running for mayor of London.

Ten per cent of the purchase price of every picture sold last Wednesday night was being donated to Fight for Sight. Now that's generous. Yes, yes - I know Lord Archer has made millions of pounds from his novels, and expects to raise a further pounds 25m from the sale of his Andy Warhol collection, but surely one good turn deserves another.

If I had raided my post office savings, and sold off my Sketchley shares - no more discount dry-cleaning - I could just about have raised the pounds 8,000 (there wasn't much on offer for less than pounds 8,000) to buy a print of Greta Garbo, Father Christmas or the Queen.

I would have liked to buy the nine Marilyn Monroes, but they went for pounds 3m. Greta Garbo had diamond dust on her earrings and hat, but the Queen was a much better bet, because there were four of them left, all in different colourways, one of which must surely have matched my curtains.

The Queen pictures were arranged like a block of giant postage stamps - if only the Moguls had painted that way, I might have seen the incredible detail. There were no flies on the Queen.

And then someone told me about the Campbell's soup tins downstairs, which were a bit more expensive, but so quintessentially Warhol that they were potentially more valuable as an investment, albeit less suited to my curtains.

In the end, I became so confused that I ended up buying nothing and helping no one. I wish I knew more about art.

It's at times like this that I sympathise with the late mayor of Rotherham, overheard at an exhibition of surrealist paintings: "Art is art - we all know that, and there's nowt anyone can do about it - but there's the mayoress's feelings to consider," he said.