Hordes can't get in for love or Monet

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The Independent Online
"IT'S A wicked exhibition to see off your face, because it's so beautiful and so dreamy." The couple who had dropped an ecstasy tab before "rocking up" at the Royal Academy at 2am yesterday clung to each other as they sat on a viewing bench.

They hadn't actually seen many paintings yet, but the night was young. "We're totally spun out by all the people here," said the 25-year-old woman who, by day, is a drugs and alcohol counsellor. "I want to walk around, but he's suffering loss of vision. Luckily we've got hours, so we'll sit here for a while and then go and walk around."

Another tripping couple was scrutinising one of the paintings' captions. It read: "Lent to the Gobelins Tapestry Studio, Paris" - on the face of it a pretty uninteresting fact. "Where does the tapestry come into it then?" asked the girl. "Gobelins. Jobelins. Gobelins. Jobelins."

Despite notable exceptions, the pill-popping contingent at the Monet after Midnight exhibition was in the minority. Most of the 8,000 visitors to Britain's first all-night art exhibition appeared to be taking the task extremely seriously. Or perhaps they were just concentrating on staying awake.

"It's warm as well which adds to the tiredness factor," said a bleary- eyed Andrew Tennent, 24. "I just keep thinking: `Where's the exit? Where's the exit?' I'm thinking of buying one of those books in the entrance."

One woman, Ingrid Op Den Camp, 31, had flown into London from the Netherlands for 24 hours, especially to see exhibition. "The purple waterlilies. That's what's brought me," she said, explaining that she couldn't get a ticket for any other time slot. "I didn't book a hotel. I'm staying here all night."

Outside the Royal Academy, on Piccadilly, a fluorescent-jacketed steward was urging the crowd to go home to bed: "There is absolutely no point in standing here. There are no more tickets. It's sold out all night," he said.

But these people seemed happy to stand there till dawn if necessary, kissing, cuddling, and sharing chocolate cake. It was, after all, their last chance to pay their pounds 9 and see the 80 assembled Monets. Last night the paintings were packed up, ready to be returned to their various private and public homes around the world.

By 4am yesterday 150 people were still waiting to get in. A pair of students had been there several hours. "We're just very last-minute," said one, as if what he was doing was the most natural thing in the world. Josh Whaley, a 29-year-old artist from Islington, was less amused. "It's open 24 hours a day and we still can't get in," he said, heading for home.

Back inside, the lucky ones were still squinting at the canvasses. The occasional snippet of art critique reverberated around a room - "Abstraction worked but only when it was in a dynamic configuration ... It needs that special differentiation and orientation." But the general consensus was that viewing art in the middle of the night was less than ideal.

"I feel I could appreciate the paintings more in the day when I'm bright and awake, but appreciating them a bit is better than nothing at all," said Teri McQueen, 20, a student from California.

But for Ray Peck, 36, a salesman from Indianapolis, the experience was special. "We've found this little cache of time while everyone else is sleeping. By the time they wake up we will have done an entirely different event that they would never have considered ... Just the fact that it's the middle of the night adds a little artsiness to the art."

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