I knock back a hearty slug of my Slovenian Quercus Pinot Bianco and look out across the river towards Somerset House. The October sunshine is surprisingly strong. Either that, or the Slovenian white wine has some sort of antifreeze agent in it that has rapidly warmed my innards. A tall, elegant African lady sits down opposite me despite the fact that there are a number of empty tables available on the pub terrace. She is blocking my view of the river, so I nod at her and gesture towards one of the neighbouring tables.
She doesn’t move.
“Ivan, it’s me.”
The African lady has a surprisingly deep voice. And then I realise...
“Christ, Sir Nick! What on earth do you think you look like?”
“I always dress like this when I visit 1:54, the Contemporary African Art Fair. At Tate we have embraced the refusal of the ethnocentric gaze. Think back to our first thematic show, Century City...”
“Christ, yes, what a mess that was,” I recall.
“...just 15 years ago, and yet it prefigured the radically decentred artworld that has come about today.”
The great man is taking off his swathes of Dutch wax-print fabric that anthropologists have noted are a powerful form of nonverbal communication between African women. A portly Indian barman comes towards us and I think we might be in trouble, but instead of stopping the great man undressing, he leans over and says, “The best space in Tate Modern is of course the Turbine Hall. A void at the heart of the building!”
He bows theatrically and moves on. He looks awfully familiar. Sir Nick has now disrobed and sits in his usual reassuringly smart white shirt and dark jacket. The waiter reappears with a ‘Cheesy Does It’ sharing plate.
“Thanks, Anish,” says Sir Nick.
I haven’t heard a word: “Baked camembert! I haven’t seen one of these in a while,” I enthuse, diving in. “Look, Sir Nick, let’s get on with it. I want your job. It’s not so much that I want to be director of Tate Modern, it’s more that I love the building. I want to be in charge of a power station! I’ve always been intoxicated by power ever since Manifesta 6 was cancelled because angry Cypriot artists rose up against the power of curators...”
“Interesting,” says Sir Nick as he pokes around the Meantime ale cheese fondue that has come with the sharing platter.
“Of course, one of the things that the Turbine Hall has is a hum,” interjects the waiter, who is back.
“And since then,” I continue, “I’ve always wanted to reassert the power of the curator over these bloody artists and their ghastly dealers. I mean, what real power do they have? Picture hangers!”
“A low ‘G’ from the turbines,” the waiter adds. He hums a note that I take to be a low ‘G’. Sir Nick joins in and so do I, as I don’t want to be impolite.
I break off first. “You know, I’m not going to shy away from it. I want to be top of the Power 100. You did it once, although now of course you’re understandably on the slide. And I figure your job is my easiest route to the top.”
“The hum is in fact G-sharp,” observes Sir Nick. The barman bows again at Sir Nick and moves off graciously.
“I mean, I saw the advert for your job in the Guardian,” I continue, spearing the last bit of camembert and washing it down with a hearty glug of the Slovenian, “but you know I can’t be doing with interview panels. It went awfully badly at the ICA when I revealed my strategy would be to bring back my good chum Alan Yentob as chair of the council and get dear Anthony Fawcett to mastermind a revival of the Beck’s Futures.”
“Good God, Ivan, you don’t think that advertisement was serious, do you?”
Sir Nick has started laughing. “Anish, come over here, you’ll never guess. Ivan thinks that advertisement for my job was genuine!”
The barman comes over and puts a Hog Chick sharing platter down before also laughing uproariously. I pick at the remnants of the now tepid cheese, not understanding the joke.
“Good God, Ivan, we only put those adverts out to keep the mandarins at DCMS happy. I mean, there has to be a harmony in succession, someone who can safeguard the legacy. ‘The Holy Grail ’neath ancient Roslin waits...’”
“‘...the blade and chalice guarding o’er Her gates!’”
The barman finishes Sir Nick’s words.
“Isn’t that from The Da Vinci Code, that terrible novel whose ludicrous plot hinges on the tomb of Mary Magdalene being beneath the Louvre?” I ask.
“Oh, for God’s sake, don’t tell me that you secretly believe that the Holy Grail is buried beneath Tate Modern and you are merely the custodians of some sort of ultimate power, greater even than the Power 100, that is occasionally hinted at in large-scale installation work sited in the Turbine Hall, like Anish Kapoor’s solid yet intangible Marsyas?”
The two of them smile enigmatically back at me. I morosely pick up a buttermilk chicken wing and stare out over the river.
This article first appeared in the November 2016 issue of ArtReview