The V&A Protest

Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 25th May 2004

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Twenty seven followers of The Chap handcuffed themselves around Rachel Whiteread's 'Untitled (Room 101)' in the Cast Courts of the Victoria and Albert Museum, as a protest against the pointless intrusion by contemporary art pieces into public areas. Since the 19th century, the cast courts have displayed plaster casts of the world's great treasures, from the portico of Santiago de Compostela to Michaelangelo's David, without any need of embellishment. But today's culture requires that everything of any historical value is "reinterpreted" or "responded to" by some art school graduate, in order to justify its continued existence.

The Chaps and Chapettes formed a "human cufflink" around the 18x12-foot sculpture and recited the final lines of John Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." This produced no reaction whatsoever from the V&A's security officers, so the Chaps climbed on to the sculpture and continued their protest from its surprisingly wobbly surface. Even then, they were able to dispatch the contents of several hip flasks of fine whisky before attracting any attention. A stand-off ensued between security guards and the protesters, emboldened by their unassailable height and whisky. The Chap's spokesman agreed with a negotiator for the V&A to come down, if provided with a stepladder and an ashtray.

The latter, alas, was not forthcoming, and the Chaps descended, one by one, with unsmoked pipes and cigarettes clasped between their teeth. Various members of curating and conservation staff then appeared, brandishing clipboards and speaking ominously of "damage to the work." By now, all exits from the Cast Court had been sealed off by guards: there was but one course of action. The Chaps politely but firmly asked to be released, and, showing remarkable dignity, filed out of the V&A with a security escort.